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Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid and protein in the tissue that results in swelling when the normal drainage is disrupted. This fluid is normally drained through lymph channels, which are similar to blood vessels. Following surgery for breast or pelvic cancer in which lymph have been removed, or following cellulitis or trauma, these lymph channels are damaged, which disrupts the fluid drainage from the tissue. It can occur immediately or even weeks, months, or years later.

Also, some people are born with an incomplete system of lymphatic vessels, resulting in disruption of the fluid drainage system. Lymphedema can occur in the arms, legs, chest, trunk, face, or neck. Some patients develop significant prolonged pain, loss of normal function of the involved limb and decreased strength and range of motion, which can seriously interfere with their lifestyle and sense of well being.

Symptoms and Problems Commonly Treated

  • Swelling of the hand, arm, chest/breast, foot, leg, pelvis, groin, abdomen, face or neck.
  • Loss of motion in the involved limb.
  • Tightness in the armpit or chest wall.
  • Tightness in the groin, pelvis, or abdominal wall.
  • Poor posture and discomfort due to surgical changes.
  • Weakness, difficulty, or inability to move the involved limb(s).
  • Inability to perform normal daily activities including dressing, washing hair, ironing, vacuuming, etc.
  • Significant pain in affected area.

    Physical therapy can help if you experience pain, stiffness, weakness, or loss of motion due to lymphedema. A physical therapist will evaluate your individual situation and design a safe non-invasive treatment for you. Our program is designed to meet your specific needs and goals and may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Manual lymph drainage
  • Short-stretch bandaging
  • Compression garments
  • Patient education on proper skin care, activities of daily living and limb precautions to minimize the risk of infection or flare ups
  • Specific range of motion and stretching exercises
  • Individualized strengthening exercises
  • Soft tissue and scar mobilization to prevent axillary or scar contracture and lymph vessel/system scarring
  • The use of modalities (heat,ice, etc.) for pain relief and to assist with soft tissue mobilization techniques

    If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions or if you have any of these symptoms, you may benefit from our specialized physical therapy services. Contact your physician to get a referral for our program, or call and speak to one of our therapists who specializes in lymphedema to get more information about the program. Lymphedema therapy is offered at Edwin Shaw in North (Stow) and on Grant Street near downtown Akron.

  • Date Updated: 04-FEB-2015

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