Lymphedema is a form of swelling that occurs when the lymph system is damaged or blocked and protein rich fluid accumulates in your arm, leg, chest wall or abdomen. This excess fluid causes swelling and heaviness in that part of your body which is affected, decreases your motion, and puts you at risk for getting an infection such as cellulitis.

The lymph system is part of your immune system. Ten percent of the fluid delivered to your tissues by the arteries is not returned to the heart via the veins, but rather circulates in your lymph system. The lymph fluid contains proteins, viruses, bacteria, cancer cells, cell debris that is cleansed in the lymph nodes and then the fluid returns to your heart. When this system breaks down, lymphedema can occur.

There are 2 types of lymphedema: Primary and Secondary.

  • Primary lymphedema is also called congenital lymphedema. You could have been born with an anatomical alteration in your lymph system’s vessels, the lymph nodes, which would decrease your ability to transport the usual amount of lymph fluid.
  • Secondary lymphedema is also called acquired lymphedema. Causes of secondary lymphedema include a known event that changes your lymphatic system. This includes lifesaving measures to diagnose cancer by removing the lymph nodes, radiation for cancer treatment of remaining lymph nodes, or a parasite infection.

Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is the gold standard for lymphedema treatment and is offered here at the Kaplan Center. CDT has 4 components, which include:

  1. Meticulous skin care: Because infections are very common complications of lymphedema, meticulous skin and nail care are integral elements of CDT. (Avoid tight clothing, heat such as sun burns, hot tubs, saunas, etc…)
  2. Manual Lymphatic Drainage(MLD): Stimulates lymphatic flow by applying light pressure hand strokes on affected area.
  3. Compression wrapping and garments: Helps to reduce and maintain the reduction of swelling in the arm, leg, chest wall or abdomen.
  4. Therapeutic Exercises: Encourages lymphatic flow, restores range of motion and strength.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage can also be part of a comprehensive detoxification program. Indications for MLD include:

  • Post surgical conditions such as lymph node removal, joint replacements, post cosmetic surgery, post vein stripping, post mastectomy;
  • Post injuries such as ligament sprains, muscle strains, whiplash, fractures/dislocations;
  • Skin conditions such as acne, scars, Rosacea;
  • Neurological conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, tension headaches, and stress management; and,
  • Chronic conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Scleroderma.

Michele McLellan, PT, OCS, CLT, first received her certification as a lymphedema therapist in 1999. Since then, Michele has re-certified herself in the Vodder Method every 2 years, allowing her to continue providing Complete Decongestive Therapy to her patients. This training process is extensive and encompasses the latest research and treatment approaches to treating lymphedema. It meets the guidelines developed by the National Lymphedema Network, which requires at least 135 hours of training. CDT is also recommended by the American Cancer Society.

We’re here for you, and we want to help. Our goal is to return you to optimal health as soon as possible. Please call (703) 532-4892 to schedule an appointment, or for more information, please click here.

Photo courtesy of NIH National Cancer Institute.