Lymphedema can be treated very successfully by a qualified lymphedema therapist. The standard treatment is called combined decongestive therapy (CDT) and consists of:
Manual lymph drainage (MLD) – a light massage technique that stimulates the lymph system and helps the flow of lymph fluid from congested areas to healthy areas that can pick up extra fluid. MLD also helps soften hardened skin and increases the health of the skin and tissue.
Compression bandages – low-stretch bandages are applied to the affected area to provide a gradient compression that encourages fluid out of the area to decrease the swelling. The bandages must be worn at all times (except for bathing) in the treatment phase to be effective in decreasing the swelling. After the body part is down to normal or close to normal size, the patient can be fitted with appropriate compression garments that replace the bandages, support the body part, and prevent swelling from returning.
Exercise/breathing programs – the patient is encouraged to perform gentle exercises and deep breathing techniques to help stimulate low lymph flow and maintain/increase range of motion and functional movement.
Skin care – good skin care practices are very important to maintain healthy skin and prevent infections
Management – skills are learned through treatment to help patients manage and keep lymphedema under control in a home program with the use of compression stockings/garments, skin care, exercises, and task modification.
Prevention and keeping lymphedema under control
- Avoid extreme temperature changes, such as hot bath/showers, hot tubs, saunas, sunburns, and traveling to hot/cold climates. Use sunscreen, even under compression garments.
- Avoid skin infections. Possible sources of infections include: insect bites, pet scratches, cuts, punctures, and manicures/pedicures.
- Avoid injections, blood draws, or a blood pressure check in the affected limb.
- Avoid putting extra pressure or stress on the affected area. Use caution when lifting heavy objects. Do not wear tight clothing or jewelry. Wear gloves when doing housework or gardening.
- Avoid salty, fried foods. Maintain a healthy weight.
- Keep skin clean and dry. Use hypoallergenic soap and deodorant. Use care when cutting fingernails/toenails.
- Get regular exercise. Ask your therapist for recommendations.
- Seek medical treatment for swelling or signs of infection.
- Wear compression garments or bandages as directed. This may include when traveling by airplane.
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