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How Therapy Offers Relief From the Swelling of Lymphedema

November 30, 2021

For those who suffer from lymphedema, relief may come from therapy. Lymphedema is a chronic swelling that progresses in severity without proper treatment. The lymphatic system drains fluid from tissue but when it is not working properly, that fluid builds up, causing feelings of heaviness, stiffness or aching. “This fluid can lead to more serious problems such as infections or wounds,” said Melissa Canty, an occupational therapist with the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network in Stratford. “Eventually, the heaviness of the swollen limb can impact function, mobility or finding clothing that will fit.” Lymphedema can impact anyone, and affect any part of the body. It often happens after cancer treatment. Other common causes include:

  • Infection.
  • Trauma or surgery.
  • Obesity.
  • Lack of movement.
  • Venous disease.
The main treatment for lymphedema is therapy, which helps to reduce the swelling by using a specialized massage and bandaging technique. This helps to relieve heaviness, stiffness and aching. Once the swelling is reduced, compression garments are fit. Patients wear them daily at home to keep the swelling from coming back. “A gentle massage called manual lymphatic drainage helps to soften and reroute the built-up fluid to healthier parts of the body,” said Canty. “This is followed by specialized bandaging that softens the tissue and reduces the swelling. These bandages are changed daily as they become loose to maximize the progress.” The amount of therapy needed depends on how much swelling has built up. Patients will see the best results when lymphedema is treated when the symptoms are mild. “Lymphedema is typically a chronic condition that can be managed if treated appropriately,” said Canty. “If swelling is treated within the first two to four months then there is a chance it can be minimized or even reversed. This is why education is so very important.” Patients with lymphedema can now be seen at the newly opened Rehabilitation Network location in Stratford. Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network has 24 Certified Lymphedema Therapists and was named a Center of Excellence for conservative lymphedema care by the Lymphatic Education and Research Network.