Lymphedema – What is it?

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a condition involving swelling as a result of damage to the lymphatic system, oftentimes due to surgery, radiation, or cancer.

The lymphatic system collects lymph (excess fluid, proteins, and other substances) from body tissues and carries them back to the bloodstream. Lymph is moved slowly through lymphatic vessels and is passed through the lymph nodes.

Lymphedema occurs when the normal drainage of fluid is disrupted by a blockage or a cut in the lymph nodes in the groin area or the armpit. Swelling (“edema”) occurs when the lymph cannot drain through the lymph nodes and beings to collect in body tissues. Arms, legs, shoulders, hands, fingers, or chest are common areas that swell.

Although lymphedema can be a hereditary condition, it’s most often caused by blockages caused by infection, cancer, and scar tissue from radiation therapy or after lymph nodes are removed surgically.

You’re at greater risk for developing lymphedema if you:

  • Had surgical removal of lymph nodes in the underarm, groin, or pelvic region
  • Received radiation therapy to the underarm, groin, pelvic region, or neck
  • Have scar tissue in the lymphatic ducts, veins, or under the collarbones caused by surgery or radiation therapy
  • Have cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, chest, underarm, pelvis, or abdomen
  • Have tumors in the pelvis, abdomen, or chest that involve or put pressure on the lymphatic vessels and/or the large lymphatic duct thereby blocking lymph drainage
  • Have inflammation of the arm or leg after surgery
  • Are older
  • Have an inadequate diet or are overweight, as these conditions may delay recovery from surgery and radiation therapy and may increase the risk for lymphedema

Physical therapy can play a very important role in the management of lymphedema symptoms. 

Physical therapist Andrea Brodina is certified in the treatment of lymphedema and is accepting new patients. If you or someone you love is experiencing painful symptoms due to lymphedema, give Andrea a call at 218-444-8280.