There are two forms of lymphedema. Primary lymphedema can occur from birth due to an impairment in the lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema occurs from an insult to the lymphatic system and can occur at any age. These are the major diagnoses that are at risk for developing secondary lymphedema:
When lymphedema is left untreated, swelling continues, which can lead to the hardening of the skin. This can lead to skin problems and infections such as cellulitis, which may require hospitalization. In the long term, leaving lymphedema untreated can also permanently affect the limb’s range of motion and flexibility. These challenges may promote the chance of the patient adopting a more sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to a decline in the patient’s health and functional ability. For these reasons, lymphedema must be treated as quickly as possible and maintained chronically.
Complex Decongestive Physiotherapy, or CDP, is considered the gold standard treatment for lymphedema and includes both a decongestive phase and a maintenance phase. In the decongestive phase, non-surgical treatment includes inelastic compression, exercises, skin care, and manual lymph drainage (MLD). This helps reduce fluid retention, improves flow of lymphatic system, and improves functional mobility. The maintenance phase of CDP includes intermittent pneumatic biocompression, which has been proven to help edema.
-Leslie Bagay MD, in Essentials of Physical Medicine and
Rehabilitation (Fourth Edition), 2020″