Lymphedema Management

What is Lymphedema?

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that transports lymph, a protein-rich fluid, back to the blood. Lymphedema is a chronic swelling, due to an accumulation of this lymph fluid in the soft tissue. The buildup of stagnant fluid causes a mild to severe increase in limb girth, a decrease in tissue healing ability, and a high susceptibility to infections or cellulitis in the affected limb.

Diagram: The Lymphatic System

Lymphedema most often occurs in the arm or leg, but can also occur in the face, neck,
abdomen, or genitals. Primary lymphedema is the result of missing or impaired lymphatic vessels; symptoms may develop at birth or later in life. Secondary lymphedema, a much more
common type, is a result of lymph vessel damage or lymph node removal during surgery or radiation therapy. It may also occur after injury, scarring, trauma, or infection of the lymphatic system.


What causes lymphedema?

Lymphedema is caused when there is damage or blockage of the lymphatic system. This blockage can be caused by infection, cancer, scar tissue from radiation therapy, or surgical removal of the lymph nodes. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph vessels are no longer able to carry all of the lymph fluid out of the affected body part.


What are symptoms of lymphedema?

  • Swelling or redness in breast, chest, trunk, arm, or hand.
  • Tightness of clothing or jewelry.
  • Localized pain, numbness/tingling, or discomfort in breast, chest, trunk, arm or hand.
  • Areas feel full, heavy or fatigued.
  • Decreased movement in shoulder, hand, or wrist.
  • Skin on above areas feel tight or hard.


A Comprehensive Lymphedema Treatment Program

Lymphedema Therapy Guide
Download the Lymphedema Therapy Treatment Care Paacket for patients


Evaluation

Evaluation by a therapist includes:

  • Complete medical history
  • Sensory evaluation & pain assessment
  • Range of motion and muscle testing
  • Girth measurements
  • Daily living and work requirements

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)

This manual technique reroutes lymph around blocked or damaged lymph nodes. The technique also reduces the susceptibility for infection, softens tissue, reduces edema,
and improves the appearance and functional use of the extremity.

Compression Bandaging

Short stretch bandages are used to prevent the re-accumulation of evacuated lymph fluid and to break up deposits of accumulated scar and connective tissue. During the active phase of treatment, the bandages stay in place until the next MLD session begins. During the maintenance phase of therapy, the client is encouraged to wear the bandages while sleeping.

HHCRN: Lymphedema Management Image

Exercise, Skin Care, and Infection Prevention

Clients may be taught a series of low exertion exercises and diaphragmatic breathing to
stimulate lymphatic return. Training on skin care, infection recognition and response is
also included.

Home Maintenance Instruction

Clients are instructed in self-bandaging, compression garments, and self-MLD for the maintenance phase of therapy. Clients are assisted in the purchase, care, and replacement of an appropriate compression garment.

The therapists at Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network are highly trained, certified professionals in lymphedema management.


Locations

  • Backus Hospital Rehabilitation Network

    The William W. Backus Hospital Rehabilitation Network is a dedicated, dynamic, interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals consisting of Physical, Occupational, Speech therapists and physiatrists who provide customized, coordinated holistic care to patients, their families, and the community to maximize their functional independence and enhance their quality of life.

  • Hartford HealthCare Senior Services

    Hartford HealthCare Senior Services is committed to helping seniors remain as healthy and independent as possible through every stage of their lives. At these locations, physical therapy in interwoven into many aspects of senior living as seniors are encouraged to make the link between their physical and mental well-being.

  • Hartford Hospital Rehabilitation Network

    Hartford Hospital Rehabilitation Network offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, sports medicine, and health & wellness programs. Our highly skilled staff work with people who have acute illnesses, injuries, and chronic diseases as well as those who are interested in injury prevention and/or personal fitness. We have the resources and expertise to cover the entire spectrum of diagnoses.

  • The Hospital of Central Connecticut Rehabilitation Network

    The Hospital of Central Connecticut Rehabilitation Network offers inpatient and outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy. Licensed physical and occupational therapists and speech language pathologists work with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to address each patient's needs and help him or her achieve maximum function.

  • Windham Hospital Rehabilitation Network

    The therapists at Windham Hospital have cared for the physical therapy and rehabilitation needs of the Windham community for more than 40 years, and we are proud of our long legacy of excellent service to our patients and the community.

Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network