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Did You Know: PTs Can Help with a Condition Called Lymphedema?

Did you know that your lymph nodes are responsible for removing excess from your system and, if one or more of these ducts are not working properly, you can acquire swelling in your limbs? If you have cancer or a history of cancer, or if you have a cardiac, kidney, or liver condition, you may be more at risk of developing lymphedema. As many as 30% of cancer survivors develop lymphedema due to the effects of their cancer treatment ( You are also at risk of developing lymphedema if you had surgery to remove a lymph node in the underarm, groin, or pelvic region, or if you are overweight, older, or have inflammation after surgery.

The most common symptom of lymphedema is swelling in a limb that is greater on one side of your body. Other symptoms can include a heavy feeling in the limb, tightness in the limb, weakness, and aching.

In the early stages, a PT can help with compression garments, exercise, and elevation of the affected limb to promote lymph flow. A physical therapist can also help you develop a fitness program to maintain your health without straining your affected limb (Hayes 2009), perform manual lymph drainage to increase the flow of lymph (McNeely 2004), ensure your compression garments fit properly, and educate you on proper nutrition and skin care.

If you experience pain or limitations in your daily routine because of lymphedema, contact your physical therapist! Find one here today.



Click here for a fact sheet about lymphedema from the Oncology Section of the American Physical Therapy Association:

For more information about lymphedema and how a physical therapist can help, click here:

Sagen A, Karesen R, Risberg MA. Physical activity for the affected limb and arm lymphedema after breast cancer surgery. A prospective randomized controlled trial with two years follow-up. Acta Oncol. 2009;48(8):1102-1110.

McNeely ML, Magee DJ, Lees AW, Bagnall KM, Haykowsky M, Hanson J. The addition of manual lymph drainage to compression therapy for breast cancer related lymphedema: a randomized controlled trial. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2004;86(2):95-106.

HayesSC, Reul-Hirche H, Turner J. Exercise and secondary lymphedema: safety, potential benefits, and research issues. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):483-489.

Quirion E. Recognizing and treating upper extremity lymphedema in postmastectomy/lumpectomy patients: a guide for primary care providers. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2010; 22: 450-459.

Gilchrist LS, Galantino ML, Wampler M, et al. A framework for assessment in oncology rehabilitation. Phys Ther. 2009;89: 286-306.

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