Las Cruces Lymphedema Therapy

LYMPHEDEMA

When a person has lymphedema the ability of the lymphatic system to transport the fluid has been compromised. This results in an accumulation of protein rich fluid in the tissue spaces that cannot move back effectively through lymph vessels. The extra swelling decreases the oxygenation of the tissues and interferes with normal cell function.

As the lymph stagnates in the tissues, it provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth and thus increases the risk of an infection. Lymph fluid contains proteins, and proteins are the building block of tissues. As the lymph fluid remains in the tissues, the excess proteins cause the tissues to thicken and become hard.

Swelling in a limb may occur gradually, starting in the shoulder or armpit and not be noticed. You may notice the arm is swollen one day and not the next. This is an early stage of lymphedema and many times, is not diagnosed by the physician.

 

WHAT CAUSES LYMPHEDEMA

There are two main causes of lymphedema: primary or congenital and secondary. Primary/congenital lymphedema most commonly occurs in females. Usually one limb is affected. In primary lymphedema the lymph vessels are inadequate to transport the fluid. There can be too few lymph vessels or the vessels are too large and the valves do not function properly. This condition can appear at birth, at puberty or later in life.

Secondary lymphedema can result from:

  • Surgery, especially from cancer with lymph node removal
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Accidental trauma
  • Chronic venous insufficiency
  • Repeated infection in a limb
  • Parasites, most common in tropical countries
  • Postoperative infection

Factors that may contribute to the development of lymphedema in a person at risk:

  • Obesity
  • Infection from an insect bite, cat scratch
  • Constrictive clothing or jewelry
  • Long airplane travel (change in the cabin pressure)
  • Recurrent trauma to the remaining lymphatic vessels
  • Heavy breast prosthesis
  • Lifting or pushing heavy objects
  • Weight training at the gym (especially if you have never lifted weights)
  • Taking repeated blood pressure and blood from the affected arm
  • Repetitive motions that overstrains the arm

 

SYMPTOMS

  • You may have no unusual sensations and notice the limb look larger than the other
  • Feeling of tightness and heaviness in the limb
  • Aching buttocks or shoulder
  • Pins and needles in the limb
  • Shooting pains
  • A feeling of tightness and tenderness in the elbow or behind the knee
  • Pain in the joints similar to arthritis
  • Tenderness in the groin of the affected leg
  • Leaking of lymph fluid from the skin

 

LYMPHEDEMA THERAPY TREATMENT

Treatment of lymphedema should begin as soon as possible. The length of treatment depends on the severity and duration of the lymphedema.

Four steps are included in treatment:

  1. Skin hygiene
    1. Eliminate bacterial and fungal growth by:
      1. Daily bathing
      2. Careful and thorough drying between skin folds, fingers and toes
      3. Use of low pH skin lotion daily
  2. Manual lymph drainage
      1. Specific manual hand movements that follow lymph pathways to facilitate the movement of fluid in the lymph vessels.
      2. Creates alternate pathways for lymph drainage
      3. Facilitates the flow of lymph into the blood circulation and allows the limb to return to near normal size.
      4. Manual hand movements are very light, slow and rhythmic.
  3. Bandaging and Compression
      1. Stretch bandages prevent re-accumulation of lymph fluid in the tissues.
      2. Bandages are worn overnight until the next manual lymph drainage session
  4. Remedial Exercises
      1. Exercises are performed while the limb is bandaged
      2. General and individual exercise routines will be taught by your therapist.

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