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Lymphedema Management

Magnolia Rehabilitation provides therapy for patients who have developed lymphedema.

Your lymphatic system plays a large role in immune function and circulation.  It consists of lymph vessels located just below the skin, joining with lymph nodes located in your neck, armpits, and groin. As the lymph vessels move fluid out of the tissues, bacteria, dead cells, waste products, and large protein molecules are collected.  The waste products are carried to the lymph nodes to be broken down and eliminated, while the protein rich fluid is transported back to the heart to rejoin circulation.

When the lymph vessels are unable to transport lymph fluid back into the circulation, the fluid accumulates, resulting in swelling and thickening of the skin.  This build up of protein-rich lymph fluid is known as lymphedema.  Once this condition occurs, the swelling may increase if an appropriate treatment program is not initiated. 

Lymphedema most often develops in one arm or leg, but may be present in both arms and both legs.  It may also occur in the hands or feet, and even in the chest, back, neck, face, and abdomen.

Types of Lymphedema

There are two types of lymphedema, primary and secondary.

Primary lymphedema is caused by malformations of the lymphatic system.  These malformations are most common in women.  They may be present at birth or may develop later, often during puberty or pregnancy.  Primary lymphedema is most common in the legs, but may also occur in the arms or torso.

Secondary lymphedema is a result of damage to the lymphatic system.  Surgical procedures such as mastectomies, lumpectomies with radiation and/or removal of lymph nodes are the most common causes.  Secondary lymphedema occurs most commonly in the arms, but may also develop in the legs. Other causes may include infection, a traumatic injury, or severe chronic venous insufficiency.

Lymphedema may develop within a few months after a procedure, years later, or not at all.  The first obvious sign of lymphedema is swelling characterized by pitting.  This is recognizable when the skin is depressed for a few seconds and the indentation does not immediately disappear.  Other symptoms may include a tightness or heaviness in the affected area or changes in the texture of the skin.  You may even notice that jewelry and clothing feel tighter.


Once the diagnosis of lymphedema is confirmed, certain treatment procedures are indicated.  Since there is no cure for lymphedema, the goal of treatment is to reduce the swelling and to maintain the reduction.  For a majority of patients, this can be achieved by the skillful application of Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) which is safe, reliable, and non-invasive.  It is proven to provide positive long-term results for both primary and secondary lymphedema.  CDT is performed by specially trained therapists.  This treatment consists of four different components:

  • Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
  • Graduated Compression Garments
  • Therapeutic Exercises
  • Careful Skin Care

Complete Decongestive Therapy works in two phases, the first being to move the lymph fluid out of the affected region and reduce the swelling using Manual Lymph Drainage techniques and bandaging. Ideally these treatments are performed daily, five days a week for 2-4 weeks, depending on the severity.  Once the swelling is reduced, the patient is fitted with a graduated compression garment.  The second phase, the patient plays a large role in his or her ongoing self-care.  Wearing graduated compression garments, being very careful about skin care, and performing self-manual lymph drainage and therapeutic exercises will assure continued success.

Magnolia Rehabilitation therapists are specially trained in lymphedema therapy. We will meet all of your needs, including ordering and fitting you with your compression garment.  Please call any of our locations and we will get your lymphedema therapy started immediately.

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