Your lymphatic system is a major defense system for your body. It helps to maintain optimal fluid levels by absorbing excess fluid from the skin and subcutaneous tissues, and it works to defend your body against foreign invaders and bacteria. One of the most common side effects of cancer is a condition known as lymphedema, which involves bodily swelling due to damage to your lymphatic system. It’s essentially a collection of streams throughout your body that help to regulate fluid and waste.
When an issue develops with your lymphatic system, fluid can persist and lead to problematic swelling in certain areas, like your hands, feet or legs. One of the most common reasons for lymphedema onset is due to complications caused by the presence of cancer. Cancer can damage your lymphatic system, making it harder for your body to remove fluids, which in turn leads to lymphedema.
Treating Lymphedema With PT
Your lymphatic system consists of your lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland and tonsils, with your lymph nodes positioned all over your body. You have lymph nodes in your groin area, under your armpit, above your shoulder, above your elbow and in your neck region, but if any of these nodes are damaged as a result of cancer or cancer treatment, lymphedema can develop. In patients with breast cancer, the axillary nodes in the armpit are most commonly affected, leading to swelling in the upper arms.
It’s important to proactively treat lymphedema and work to drain this excess fluid, as other symptoms can develop as a result of unmanaged swelling. You may develop worsening swelling, new pain, decreased flexibility or general weakness in the affected area. Fortunately, a physical therapist can help you treat the effects of lymphedema, even if they can’t reverse the damage done to your lymphatic system.
Physical therapy for lymphedema typically progresses in two stages. In the first phase, your physical therapist will work directly with you to begin relieving lymphatic build up. They may do this through:
- Manual manipulation
- Lymphatic exercises
- Compression techniques or skin care
Your specific care routine will be dictated by your individual needs, but oftentimes gentle maneuvers and exercises can help move fluid in or out of an area as needed.
The second phase of physical therapy for lymphedema involves education and ensuring that the patient can appropriately self-manage their condition on their own or with less frequent trips to the physical therapist’s office. We’ll teach you things like:
- Home-based exercises to manage lymphedema on your own
- How diet, exercise and fluid intake can affect fluid development and movement throughout your body.
- Proper skin care routines.
- How to use compression wear or taping techniques to manage lymphatic drainage
We’re confident that you can regain more control over fluid movement throughout your body by connecting with a physical therapist if you are dealing with lymphedema, so don’t wait any longer. Pick up the phone and set up an appointment with the physical therapy team at OrthoRehab Specialists today at (612) 339-2041.