Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid causing abnormal swelling of the arms, legs, breast, abdomen, neck or head and occurs when there is a disruption to the lymph nodes or vessels. Primary Lymphedema occurs when lymphatic vessels are impaired or missing and is sometimes associated with other vascular conditions. In many cases, there is no known cause. Secondary Lymphedema is the most common type and occurs when lymphatic vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed. Common causes of secondary Lymphedema are surgery, radiation, infection or trauma. Secondary Lymphedema may develop immediately upon damage to the lymphatic system or may develop weeks, months or even years later.

Lymphedema develops as the flow of lymphatic fluid is slowed or stopped by the damage to the lymph nodes or vessels. When the lymphatic system is no longer able to handle the volume of lymphatic fluid, this protein rich fluid begins to build up in the tissues.

Early signs of Lymphedema include a full sensation in the limb(s), tight feeling skin, and reduced flexibility in the hand, wrist or ankle, clothing becoming tight in one area or tightness of a ring or watch. Left untreated, lymphatic fluid continues to accumulate, causing increasing swelling of the area and hardening of the tissues. Additionally, the accumulated fluid in a perfect medium for bacteria and carries a high risk for recurrent infections. Early diagnosis and treatment is important for reducing the severity of the condition and managing the long-term effects.

Treatment available at APRS:
The therapists at APRS understand the physical and emotional impact of Lymphedema. The initial treatment focuses on reducing the swelling and protecting the integrity of the skin. At the same time, the therapist provides the client with information on reducing the risk of infection, teaches exercises and bandaging techniques for home use and provides ideas for managing the condition within each person’s unique lifestyle. Our therapists are trained in Manual Lymph Drainage techniques where gentle massage promotes the flow of lymphatic fluid out of the area. The client will initially visit the clinic three to five times per week. As the swelling is reduced, the less visits are required and the client learns techniques to manage the condition at home. Following each treatment, special compression bandages are applied to maintain progress and further reduce swelling. The initial stage of treatment may take a few weeks or several months depending on the severity of the condition and other health conditions of the individual. When the swelling has been reduced as far as possible, the client is fitted with special compression garments for long term use. Garments are available in various styles to accommodate to each individuals medical needs and lifestyle considerations.

Factors which increase the risk of developing Lymphedema:
+ Being very overweight
+ Being a heavy smoker
+ Having diabetes
+ Having any condition that affects the circulation of blood and lymph fluid
+ Surgeries or injuries that damage the lymph system, especially in the armpit or groin areas.

Tips for preventing or managing Lymphedema:

+ Moisturize your skin frequently
+ Clean your skin with gentle soaps
+ Use gloves to protect your skin while cleaning, washing dishes or working outside
+ Protect your skin from sunburn and other types of burns as well as insect bites
+ Take frequent rest breaks when performing vigorous or repetitive activities
+ Rest your arms or legs in an elevated position
+ Control your blood sugars carefully
+ Maintain a healthy weight
+ Wear compression bandages or garments, especially when flying in airplanes

+ Take usually hot baths or showers or go into high-heat hot tubs, saunas or steam baths
+ Go from extreme hot to cold water temperatures
+ Apply heating pads or hot compresses to affected areas
+ Carry heavy objects or wear heavy shoulder bags with your at-risk arm
+ Wear constrictive clothing or jewelry
+ Drink much alcohol
+ Smoke
+ Stress the skin