What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is abnormal swelling in the limb caused by an accumulation of protein rich fluid. This swelling is usually seen in the arms and legs. Lymphedema most often occurs as a result of the removal of lymph nodes following surgery for cancer. Radiation treatments for cancer increase a person's chance for developing lymphadema. Lymphedema can develop as early as a few months after cancer treatment or several years later.
Lymphedema causes not only distortion of the limb, but also significantly increases chances of infection. Patients frequently experience adverse psychological affects as a result of the changes in the appearance of the limb. Lymphedema often limits the patients' lifestyle if left untreated. At this time there is no cure for lymphedema, but with treatment patients are able to return to a more "normal" lifestyle.
Signs of lymphedema
- Swelling of the limb seen in the wrist, ankle, fingers, and toes
- The limb feels heavy
- Restricted movement in the limb
- The limb feels firm to the touch
Knowledge is power
Holly Connor, a retired Lt. Colonel, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose to educate herself on the subject and discovered lymphedema was a possible complication. While working at her home based business, Holly noticed her wristwatch had become tight. This happened shortly after she had finished her radiation and chemotherapy treatments. She had waged an all out war on her cancer, and was equally determined to combat her lymphedema as well.
Holly spoke to her Oncologist and he confirmed the presence of lymphedema in her arm. He referred her to Midwest Rehab Medicine for treatment. After only two weeks of therapy, the swelling had improved significantly and her arm began looking more normal.
"Our business was doing quite well and I realized I had the capability to move my arm as if there was never anything wrong."
Holly comfortably wears her watch again and is thrilled with the reappearance of her wrist, which she had not seen in a year. Better yet, her home-based business hasn't slowed down at all; in fact, it has doubled since she was diagnosed with cancer. Holly took a proactive approach to combating her cancer by researching on the Internet and seeking treatment for her lymphedema before it had a chance to become severe. Holly has begun informing other cancer survivors about the positive affects of therapy and provides information about her own experiences as an advisor on an Internet Web site for cancer survivors.
Midwest Rehab Medicine offers compassionate caring professionals that design programs to fit the individual's needs. Therapists specializing in the treatment of lymphedema patients understand the mental anguish as well as the physical limitations patients face during this time. Our licensed personnel will closely follow the patient throughout the duration of treatment and take into account the trials and tribulations patients may endure. The close relationship between the patient and therapist is a vital part of wellness and recovery.
Lymphedema is most easily treated soon after the first sign of swelling. Protein left in the tissues for an extended period can cause irreversible changes in the limb. A "wrap" is placed around the affected area and the therapist customizes an array of gentle exercises for the patient. Treatment is tailored to the individual and will consist of a combination of the following:
- Exercise with limb wrapped
- Manual lymphatic drainage (gentle massage)
- Vasopneumatic pump treatment
- Compression garment