Did you know that over 10 million Americans are diagnosed with lymphedema and lymphatic diseases? More people are living with these diseases in the United States than are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, ALS and Parkinson's Disease — combined.
The lymphatic system is a part of your immune system that guards against infection. Lymphedema occurs when there is a direct or indirect disruption of the lymphatic system in the form of surgery, radiation, injury and any trauma.
Lymphedema is most well known as related to cancer treatments, which include removal of lymph nodes through surgical procedures and/or radiation. For example, breast cancer survivors may develop lymphedema in their arm, hand, chest, head and/or neck. Patients presenting with cancer of the head and neck may develop swelling in the front of their neck or face. Gynecological cancers can cause lymphedema in the leg, foot, abdomen and genitalia.
Lymphedema can also be present at birth or develop during adolescence due to the malformation of the lymphatic system. In addition, this disease can manifest as a complication from chronic venous insufficiency, infection, obesity, wounds and blood clots. Lymphedema is a lifelong, chronic and ongoing condition.
At the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center, we have evaluated and treated thousands of patients with lymphedema since opening our doors in 2010. Our team of occupational and physical therapists have specialized training in the treatment and management of lymphatic disorders. These Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLTs) also specialize in recovery from complications that may arise during or after cancer treatments.
An evaluation by one of our CLTs includes baseline measurements in the area of swelling, education, extensive medical history review, assessment of range of motion, strength and functional independence. Our therapists also use cutting-edge technology, including the SOZO®, to detect lymphedema at the subclinical level before it becomes an issue. Through this proactive approach to care, our CLTs teach patients how to manage their chronic lymphedema condition.
Lymphedema therapy focuses on four components: manual lymphatic drainage, compression, exercise and skin care. Manual lymphatic drainage is a light massage that assists with moving the lymph fluid back into the circulatory system. Compression can be in the form of wraps and/or a sleeve or stocking to prevent more swelling. Exercises enhance the movement of lymph fluid. Meticulous skin care decreases risk for infection in the swollen areas.
Our lymphedema program works closely with the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, Tallahassee Memorial Metabolic Health Center, Tallahassee Memorial Heart & Vascular Center and Tallahassee Memorial Wound Healing Center.
Should you or a loved one feel that you are in need of treatment for lymphedema, please speak with your physician about a referral to our lymphedema program. For more information, call the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center at 850-431-5164 or visit TMH.ORG/Rehab.