Helping Your Lymphatic System Work Better
At UnityPoint Health - Trinity Regional Medical Center, specially trained Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants provide education, establish exercise programs and utilize manual therapy to help the lymphatic system work better.
Lymphedema is a condition which causes an extreme amount of swelling usually in the arms and legs. It is caused by extra fluid that doesn't circulate normally in the body. For the three million Americans affected, the consequences include severe discomfort, "heaviness" and decreased function of the extremities caused by the retention of lymphatic fluid which the body is unable to expel. Left untreated, it can lead to pain, poor wound healing, permanent skin changes, functional disability, and cellulitis, a skin condition that may require hospitalization.
Trinity Regional Medical Center's Lymphedema Clinic specializes in Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) and Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT). MLD and CDT are painless procedures comprised of:
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage - a type of light touch massage used to stimulate the lymphatic vessel to drain excess fluid
- Combined Decongestive Therapy - a deeper touch therapy used to drain fluid from an extremity with a damaged lymphatic system toward an area with an efficient working system
- Compression bandaging
- Exercise regime combined with patient education
After medical approval by a physician, patients begin individualized MLD/CDT programs. Treatments average four weeks in duration, although more severe cases may require a commitment of six months to one year. When possible, instruction is provided to family members on various techniques to manage lymphedema on a day-to-day basis.
The Lymphedema team works with the patient's primary physician to prepare an individual for therapy. In many patients, several liters of fluid are mobilized. This requires cardiac and respiratory monitoring, as well as wound management.
Almost all treatments require low and high stretch specialized compressive bandages. This method of bandaging requires specific training in techniques to assure a healthy pressure is used and proper patient training is provided. Bandaging treatment results in:
- Softening the underlying tissues,
- Lessening heaviness,
- Increasing range of motion,
- Promoting wound healing, and
- Decreasing size.
Once the Lymphedema reaches a point where it can be controlled, the patient assumes management of the condition at home. This is a two step process. During the day, lymphedema patients must wear a custom-fitted compression garment to help the affected limb maintain the desired size. In the evening, patients will bandage themselves, as taught by the Occupational Therapists.