Eva Johannesen, PT, specialist in lymphedema therapy, has been treating people with lymphedema for many years.
Everyone knows how blood flows through the body nourishing every cell. Less well known is the equally important lymphatic system, which plays a big role in improving your immunity. It is a network of lymph vessels that transports lymph fluid containing infection fighting white blood cells. The lymphatic vessels are connected to lymph nodes which manufacture the white blood cells.
Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling that can occur in any body part caused by lymph fluid that is unable to drain properly resulting in congestion.
“It is caused either by the removal of lymph nodes, damage to the lymph vessels or circulatory problems,” said Eva.
Physical therapy is an effective tool in managing the condition. “We perform manual drainage techniques to remove the excess lymph fluid out of the congested body part and back to the trunk and neck,” said Eva.
What Happens During a Physical Therapy Session?
During the physical therapy session, the therapist may also wrap an affected limb and instruct the person in lymphedema exercises. “Wrapping entails putting several layers of compression bandages around the limb to improve lymphatic and vascular return,” said Eva.
“After the swelling goes down, the patient is also prescribed compression garments that can be worn during the day. They are considered dynamic and are worn only while active. The compression bandages may be worn during the day and at night as needed.”
“Lymphedema is a chronic condition, so we teach the patient how to manage it. The management techniques taught may include lymphedema self- massage, home exercises, correct skin care and donning of compression bandages and garments.
The skin is our first barrier of defense against toxins and bacteria entering our body, so must be kept clean and moist to decrease risk of skin infections and worsening of the lymphedema.
Patients may have therapy 2 or 3 times a week for 6 to 8 weeks. “Many lymphedema patients may have other issues in addition to their lymphedema,” said Eva. “For example, someone with lymphedema after a mastectomy, breast reconstruction or radiation treatment may also have neck or shoulder problems that need attention.”