Lymphedema is brought forth by an abnormality of the lymphatic system leading to a collection of protein-rich fluid that causes swelling of the affected tissues.
If not treated, lymphedema can bring about chronic inflammation, hardening and infection of the skin, which can lead to further lymph vessel damage and distortion in the shape of the affected body parts.
Lymphedema Treatment Methods
The method, degree, and duration of treatment is dependent on the severity of the condition.
Nonetheless, irrespective of the severity, there are ideal options for getting and keeping the swelling down as well as controlling the pain.
Lymphedema treatment includes:
1. Manual Lymph drainage
Manual lymph drainage is a special massage technique that encourages the flow of lymph fluid from your arm, leg or the affected body part.
However, it is important to have the massage done by someone with special training in the technique. It involves a light touch to drain excess lymph and fluid back into the lymphatic vessels.
2. Use of foam pads and chip bags
These are used where one has pockets of pronounced swelling, hardening or scarring of the soft tissue below the skin.
The foam pads are placed under the bandage to apply continuous gentle pressure to any pockets of swelling. They help to restore the body part to its original shape.
Chip bags on the other hand contain shredded foam chips. They are placed under the wrapping garment to aid in breaking down fibrosis. They help to knead and massage the hardened areas to aid in softening the tissue.
There are a number of light exercises that may encourage drainage of lymph fluid and enhance an individual’s ability to undertake day to day tasks.
The exercises focus on the movement of the affected limb, but should not be strenuous or tiresome.
One can consult a certified lymphedema therapist for more information on appropriate and helpful exercises.
4. Pneumatic compression
This method involves wearing a sleeve over the affected limb that connects to a pump that sporadically inflates the sleeve. This way, it exerts pressure on the limb, thus moving the lymph fluid away from the fingers or toes.
5. Wrapping the leg or arm
With the help of a lymphedema therapist, one can bandage their entire limb to encourage the of lymph fluid back towards the trunk of the body.
The bandages should be wrapped tightest around the toes or fingers and loosened as the wrapping moves up the leg or arm.
6. Complete decongestive therapy
This method entails a combination of therapies and lifestyle changes.
However, complete decongestive therapy is discouraged for people with diabetes, paralysis, high blood pressure, heart failure, acute infections, and blood clots.
In instances of severe lymphedema, surgery may be considered in order to get rid of the excess tissue in the arm or leg to alleviate swelling.
Surgery is also considered when there is no improvement with the use of other conservative measures.
8. Compression garments
There are compression garments that tend to compress the arm or leg when exercising, encouraging the drainage of lymph fluid out of the affected limb.
Such garments include stockings and long sleeves designed to compress the limb and encourage flow of the lymph fluid.
9. Arm elevation
This method encourages the elevation of the affected limb whenever possible, especially during the night.
However, for lower extremity lymphedema, one may achieve this by elevating the foot of the bed to a certain level.
10. Laser therapy
Recent studies have established that laser therapy help to break down scar tissue, increase the range of movement and reduce the volume of the arm.
It is believed that the laser light improves the flow of lymph while also decreasing the ability of scar tissue to get attached to the underlying healthy tissue.
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