About Lymphedema

Below are before and after photos of patients that received lymphedema therapy.
Please notice the significant decrease in swelling in their left forearms and hands.
If you are concerned about your lack of mobility or lymphedema, we can help.


What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is structured like a web, occasionally draining into small lumps or nodes that filter the lymphatic fluid. The system works through the pumping power of the body’s muscles. The muscles contract, increasing pressure within the lymph vessels, which causes the fluid to move. Lymphatic fluid is a protein rich fluid. The muscle pump from the body helps to break down large protein molecules into smaller ones. The system contains a series of one-way valves that ensure that the fluid and protein moves in the appropriate way through the body. The lymphatic system helps rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials.

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema, the build up of protein rich fluid in the subcutaneous interstitial compartment occurs when either lymph fluid is impeded from flowing through the lymph vessels and lymphatic system or there is an excess of fluid that exceeds the carrying capacity of the lymph system. It collects in the subcutaneous and deep tissues causing swelling of the affected area and predisposes to chronic inflammation.

What happens when lymphedema occurs in people after breast cancer treatment?

When a sentinel node is removed, a number of nodes are removed, or if the nodes receive radiation therapy, the body is at risk for lymphedema. The loss of lymph nodes and vessels can result in lymphedema in the arm or other parts of the body. Lymphedema onset and severity is unpredictable not predictable because of the variability of the insults and the lymphatic system itself.

A simple way to try to explain lymphedema is to equate it with a clogged drain. Imagine that the interstial protein is the hair, and that the tapwater is the interstitial fluid. If a few hairs go down the drain, fluid/water can still flow. The more hair in the drain, the less fluid can sneak past. This causes a drain clog that requires assistance to bypass the area completely. That is the job of a lymphedema therapist.


Why is it important to be aware of this?

Any event which stimulates the formation of increased protein fluid and floating cells between the cells in the arm (such as infection, trauma and sun burn) or slow the flow of lymph fluid out of the arm (such as have blood pressure taken with a cuff) can increase the chance of fluid accumulating in the arm. Since no truly curative therapies exist, medical intervention is focused on preventing occurrences and recurrences and is most often dependent on patient self management and adherence. It is important to not only address swelling early, but to also get therapy immediately post operatively to increase range of motion, strength, and preventive therapies as well as to decrease scar tissue from surgeries involving the lymphatic’s.

Foldi’s Textbook for Lymphology: 2nd edition12/2006
Zuther, J.E. Lymphedema Management – The Comprehensive Guide for Practitioners, 2005


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