This March, the Indian Health Service is highlighting the work of our physical therapists in observance of Lymphedema Awareness Month. Lymphedema is a chronic condition caused by a compromised lymphatic system that results in an abnormal accumulation of protein and water. Swelling occurs when your lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid, usually from an arm or leg. Most commonly, the condition is a result of surgery or injury but people can be born with lymphedema too. There's no cure for lymphedema, only treatment that focuses on reducing the swelling and controlling the pain. It’s more than just fluid retention and it may be more common than you think.
Physical therapists at the IHS have special training that can help control and manage lymphedema for both upper and lower extremities with complete decongestive therapy. The treatment consists of four parts including Manual Lymphatic Drainage, skin care, compression with short stretch bandages or garments, and decongestive exercises. In some cases the use of a pneumatic compression pump may be necessary to force fluids back into the veins.
Take some time this month to learn about the stages and symptoms of lymphedema and be sure to see your health care provider if you notice persistent swelling in your limbs. If your provider suspects that you may have lymphedema, it is important that they write a prescription for you to be evaluated by a certified lymphedema therapist. While there is presently no cure for lymphedema, it can be properly managed with early diagnosis and treatment.