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Ask the Expert: Lymphedema

 Theresa Adamski, P.T.
Theresa Adamski, P.T.
Physical therapist
Sees patients at Marshfield Clinic Stettin Center.

Question: What can I do about lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a type of chronic swelling caused by an abnormal build-up of fluid, usually in an arm or leg.

It may be caused by treatment for breast cancer, surgical removal of lymph nodes, or a hereditary defect in the lymphatic system.

Symptoms besides swelling may include pain, tightness or heaviness.

Therapeutic services include bandaging, exercises and manual lymph drainage techniques.

We also often use a mechanical compression pump and compression garments.

For more severe swelling, we provide treatment daily for two weeks.

Less severe swelling requires treatment with the therapist two or three days per week for one or two weeks.

After we’ve achieved optimal limb size reduction, we instruct the patient to self-manage.

This includes following certain precautions such as:

  • ​Meticulous skin care to minimize injuries and prevent infection
  • Trimming nails carefully
  • Shaving with an electric razor
  • Avoiding scratches
  • Using sunscreen
  • Avoiding excessive heat on the limb
  • Wearing protection such as gloves for gardening or outdoor work

Patients should also avoid anything that constricts the limb, such as having their blood pressure taken on the affected limb, wearing tight jewelry or clothing, sleeping on the involved side, or carrying purses or bags on that arm or shoulder.

Marshfield Clinic provides Physical Therapy​ in a number of our centers. Your primary care doctor can refer you to the appropriate specialty and location.​