Lymphedema Treatment

Some medical conditions or treatments may result in significant swelling of your arms or legs, a condition called lymphedema.

Lymphedema occurs when your lymphatic system is blocked or cut and your lymph can’t flow or drain properly. Lymph is a clear fluid from the tissues in your body.

Effects of Lymphedema

Lymphedema can cause pain, swelling or weakness in your joints that make it difficult to move.

Your surgeon or physician may refer you to physical therapy for lymphedema treatment.

Physical Assessment

Your licensed physical therapist will:

  • Take a complete medical history, including history of
    • Edema
    • Radiation therapy
    • Surgery
  • Determine whether you're near your ideal weight
  • Measure your arms and legs
  • Determine how well you can complete activities of daily living (ADLs)
  • Determine your range of mobility and strength

Personalized Care Plan

Based on the assessment, your therapist will determine:

  • The nature and degree of disability, if any
  • What services you’ll need, including compression garments or bandaging
  • What therapeutic interventions may be helpful


Your PT will then create a personalized care plan that meets your individual needs. As you progress through therapy, your therapist will regularly re-evaluate your care plan.

Goals of Lymphedema Treatment

Your physical therapist will work closely with your surgeon or physician.

Goals of lymphedema treatment include:

Lymphedema Treatment

Your physical therapist may recommend several different treatment approaches to managing your lymphedema:

  • Compression garments
    • Custom-fitted clothing that places controlled pressure on different parts of your arm or leg
    • Helps prevent swelling in your affected limbs
  • Aerobic exercise
    • Physical movement that causes your heart and lungs to pump harder
    • Helps your lymph to move out of affected limbs
    • Decreases swelling
  • Bandaging
    • Wrapping your arm or leg after swelling has gone down
    • Helps keep your limbs from refilling with fluid
  • Compression devices
    • Pumps that inflate and deflate on a timed cycle
    • Helps keep lymph flowing through your lymph system
  • Manual lymphatic drainage
    • Light tapping and stroking of soft tissues
    • Performed by our specially licensed physical therapists

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