Victoria LaManna PT, DPT, CLT
March 6th is Lymphedema Awareness Day! The lymph system carries the body’s waste products, dead pathogens, and water. Eventually these substances are cleared by the body. Problems can occur if the lymph system gets blocked and cannot clear these substances. Problems with the lymphatic system can cause swelling in affected limbs, and sometimes pain, as well as fibrotic changes in the skin.
You can be born with issues in your lymph system which can cause primary lymphedema or you can have damage to your lymph system because of surgery or radiation treatments, especially for breast cancer.
If you are living with lymphedema, try these tips from the Mayo Clinic to keep your limbs as healthy as possible:
- Avoid injections, vaccinations, blood pressure monitoring, or IV’s on the affected limb
- Don’t wear tight fitting clothing or jewelry
- Avoid exposure to extreme temperatures, like hot baths, or saunas
- Monitor your affected limb for signs of infection, and go to the doctor if you suspect infection
You can also check out our list of Self Care Tips
Physical therapy can help manage lymphedema, which requires a very specialized lymphedema certified therapist. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we are lucky to offer lymphedema treatment with our own Certified Lymphedema Therapist, Victoria LaManna, PT, DPT, CLT . If you are interested in starting your lymphedema treatment journey, call and make an appointment with Victoria today!
For more reading on lymphedema, check out our previous blogs:
Lymph Drainage Therapy for Breast Health at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy
Beyond Basics’, Victoria LaManna Receives Lymphatic Drainage Therapy Certification
Ness S. Living with lymphedema: Take precautions, get support. 2011. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/expert-blog/lymphedema-management/bgp-20056387. Accessed February 10, 2017
By Riva Preil
Background complete- you have made it through the anatomy, good job! Time to discuss the PATHOPHYSIOLOGY. Unfortunately, things don’t always run as smoothly and perfectly as we just described, and dysfunction of the lymphatic system can result in LYMPHEDEMA. Lymphedema (LE) is swelling of the upper or lower extremities due to impairment in the lymphatic system. It can also develop in the trunk, head, neck, or genitals. It is a chronic disease and treatment involves lifetime management of the condition.
There are two types of lymphedema, primary and secondary. Certain individuals are born with a congenital malformation of the lymphatic system, (ex. the vessels are too large or too small). This is known as PRIMARY LYMPHEDEMA.
Furthermore, an initially healthy lymphatic system can develop problems through infection, obstruction, or damage. This is known as SECONDARY LYMPHEDEMA. Globally, the most common cause of lymphedema is filariasis, a parasitic disease that is caused by thread-like roundworms which occupy the lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes. The worms enter the lymphatic system through blood feeding mosquitos and black flies in certain tropical countries.
In the United States, the most common cause of lymphedema is breast cancer-related surgeries that involve removal of affected axillary lymph nodes. Removal of lymph nodes results in impairment in the lymphatic system, and it disrupts the normal return of fluid to the venous angles. This can result in swelling of the involved upper extremity. Similarly, lower extremity lymphedema can develop after removal of pelvic and or inguinal lymph nodes (ex. due to prostate or gynecological cancer surgeries).
Lymphedema can develop days, weeks, months, or even years after surgical node removal. Therefore, individuals who have undergone these types of surgeries should be aware of their predisposition towards developing the disease. Any abnormal swelling or changes should be reported to one’s physician immediately, because the prognosis is better if the disease is detected and treated earlier.