Edema is a condition in which fluid builds up in soft body tissues and causes swelling. Left untreated, edema can lead to pain, stiffness, decreased blood circulation, scarring between layers of tissue, increased risk of infection and other complications that can significantly impact your health and wellness.
That’s why Holland Hospital Physical Therapy & Rehab Services offers a comprehensive program to manage edema and lymphedema (a specific type of swelling that generally occurs in one or both of your arms or legs). Together with you, your loved ones and your primary care doctor, our team offers specialized support to help you manage your edema or lymphedema, so you can enjoy a more comfortable, active and independent life.
What is Lymphedema?
Nearly 5 million Americans suffer from lymphedema, a condition in which protein accumulates and causes limbs to swell. Lymphedema can stem from certain birth defects or hereditary conditions, but it’s most often caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment. Other causes include trauma and infection.
Lymphedema results from a blockage in your lymphatic system, an important part of your immune system. This blockage prevents the proper draining of lymph fluid, leading to buildup and swelling. Common symptoms include:
- Swelling that restricts movement
- Tightness or heaviness in the affected limb
- Recurring infections
- Hardening or thickening of skin
While there is no cure for lymphedema, there’s good news. With early diagnosis, rehabilitation and ongoing self-care, lymphedema can be effectively managed for a higher quality of life.
A Personalized Treatment Approach
Our rehabilitation specialists offer a comprehensive, personalized approach to managing your edema or lymphedema, which incorporates education, therapy, exercise instruction and self-care recommendations. Your treatment will begin with a complete evaluation to assess the severity of your symptoms. From there, we will explore treatment options and design a rehabilitation plan that meets your specific needs, goals and lifestyle.
Your treatment may include:
- Compression bandages to increase tissue pressure and prevent fluid build-up
- Manual lymph drainage to redirect fluid and reduce swelling
- Specific exercises to keep fluids moving in affected limbs
- Skin care to maintain healthy tissue and prevent infection
- Combined physical therapy (complex decongestive therapy), a program of manual lymph drainage, bandaging, exercises and skin care managed by a therapist specially trained in edema and lymphedema management
Working closely with you and your family, we’ll strive to:
- Keep your arms or legs from swelling, or prevent the return of lymph fluid in your arms or legs
- Increase the amount of fluid your remaining lymph vessels can handle to reduce the load of swelling in affected areas
- Establish new pathways for the lymph fluid to travel through
- Decrease scar tissue
- Lower your chances of infection
- Improve the strength, range of motion and use of your arms or legs
The Power of Empowerment
It can feel overwhelming living with edema or lymphedema, especially when there’s no cure. However, it’s important to remember you can take charge of your condition for a healthier, more fulfilling life. Here are some strategies to help you cope:
- First and foremost, learn all you can about lymphedema. Being proactive and well informed can help you live healthier, as well as communicate better with your doctor or physical therapist.
- Take good care of your affected limbs. This means cleaning your skin daily, being acutely aware of any changes, such as cracks or cuts, and applying lotion to prevent dryness.
- Giving your whole body TLC. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, reduce stress, and try to get enough sleep. Taking care of your body will promote healing, as well as boost your energy level.
- Stay active, as much as possible. A critical part of lymphedema treatment, exercise is good for your body, mind and spirit. Getting your body moving is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, and take better charge of your health and wellness.
- Reach out to others. Whether you become active in a community support group or participate in online message boards, talking with others who understand what you’re going through can make a profound difference on your emotional and mental health. You can find additional support through the National Lymphedema Network.