Lymphedema

Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine Centers offer specialty care in the area of lymphedema. A team of trained physical and occupational therapists, in consultation with the patient’s physician, will assess and establish an individualized treatment program to manage swelling, pain and loss of function that results from a compromised lymphatic system.

What is Lymphedema?

The lymphatic system functions to carry tissue fluid and waste products out of the body. The lymphatic system is made up of tiny vessels throughout the body. Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in these tiny vessels, usually in the arms or legs, from a disruption in the lymphatic system. Lymphedema can be primary or secondary in nature. Primary lymphedema can be caused by congenital lymphatic malformations or in combination with congenital vascular syndrome. Secondary lymphedema is usually caused by surgery or radiation for cancer treatment.

Individuals at Risk

  • Following radiation
  • Following Mastectomy
  • Following Prostate surgery
  • Following Lymph node dissection
  • Following Trauma
  • Following Surgery which disrupts the lymph system
  • Following Chronic stasis ulcers/venous insufficiency
  • Following tumor
  • Following infection
  • Following liposuction
  • Following burns

Therapy intervention for lymphedema patients consists of the following:

Treatment phase:

Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT)

Skin care: The patient will be educated about skin health and the need for meticulous skin care.

Manual lymph drainage: Specific massage techniques are taught and used to improve lymph flow and reduce the risk of infection caused by the accumulation of fluid. Manual lymph drainage is very specific and sequential as it follows the normal flow pattern and drainage of lymph fluid. The patient/caregiver is also taught self-massage techniques to be done at home.

Short stretch bandaging: The purpose of bandaging is to provide a firm surface for the muscles to work against, in an effort to improve lymph flow. The bandages used are very different than the typical ACE bandage, as they provide a firmer surface for the muscles to contract against, thus resulting in more lymph fluid movement.

Limb Clearance Exercises: The patient will be instructed in a home exercise program to improve lymphatic flow. Exercises should be done in short stretch bandages. Exercises are chosen based on each patient’s specific needs.

Education: The patient is provided with the knowledge and skills to self-manage their lymphedema to prevent further dysfunction or recurrence. The patient is provided with verbal, written, and demonstration instruction in skin care, self-massage, short stretch bandaging, exercise and precautions.

Maintenance Phase

  • Skin Care
  • Manual lymph drainage
  • Exercise
  • Compression garment: The patient will either be measured for a custom compression garment or an over the counter garment will be recommended, once they have completed the treatment phase. The garment will be provided by the patient’s vendor of choice.

This service is available at our East and West locations only.