OmniTherapy Center
Physical Therapy & Lymphedema Specialists
What is Lymphedema?

As explained by the National Lymphedema Network, Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling, most often in the arm(s) and/or leg(s), and occasionally in other parts of the body. Lymphedema can develop when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired (primary), or when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes removed (secondary).

When the impairment becomes so great that the lymphatic fluid exceeds the lymphatic transport capacity, an abnormal amount of protein-rich fluid collects in the tissues of the affected area. Left untreated, this stagnant, protein-rich fluid not only causes tissue channels to increase in size and number, but also reduces oxygen availability in the transport system, interferes with wound healing, and provides a culture medium for bacteria that can result in lymphangitis (infection).

Lymphedema should not be confused with edema resulting from venous insufficiency, which is not lymph-edema. However, untreated venous insufficiency can progress into a combined venous/lymphatic disorder which is treated in the same way as lymphedema.

What Causes Lymphedema?

Lymphedema occurs when your lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid, usually from an arm or leg. Lymphedema can be either primary or secondary. This means it can occur on its own (primary lymphedema) or it can be caused by another disease or condition (secondary lymphedema). Secondary lymphedema is far more common than primary lymphedema.

Secondary lymphedema, or acquired lymphedema, can develop as a result of surgery, radiation, infection or trauma. Specific surgeries, such as surgery for melanoma or breast, gynecological, head and neck, prostate or testicular, bladder or colon cancer, all of which currently require removal of lymph nodes, put patients at risk of developing secondary lymphedema. If lymph nodes are removed, there is always a risk of developing lymphedema.

Secondary lymphedema can develop immediately post-operatively, or weeks, months, even years later. It can also develop when chemotherapy is unwisely administered to the already affected area (the side on which the surgery was performed) or after repeated aspirations of a seroma (a pocket of fluid which occurs commonly post-operatively) in the axilla, around the breast incision, or groin area. This often causes infection and, subsequently, lymphedema.

Aircraft flight has also been linked to the onset of lymphedema in patients post-cancer surgery (likely due to the decreased cabin pressure).

The lymphatic system of our body is extremely important because it keeps the body healthy. It circulates protein-rich lymph fluid throughout your body, collecting bacteria, viruses and waste products. Your lymphatic system carries this fluid and harmful substances through your lymph vessels, which lead to lymph nodes. The wastes are then filtered out by lymphocytes — infection-fighting cells that live in your lymph nodes — and ultimately flushed from your body. 

Symptoms of Lymphedema:

Lymphedema can develop in any part of the body, in one arm or both, in one leg or both. It can also be present in the trunk of the body, the chest area, groin area or in the face and neck. Signs or symptoms of lymphedema to watch out for include:

  • A full sensation in the limb(s), skin feeling tight, decreased flexibility in the hand, wrist or ankle.
  • Difficulty fitting into clothing in one specific area, or ring/wristwatch/bracelet tightness.
  • a clear liquid, oozing from the leg or arm which leaves a yellowish stain on a clean cloth. 
If you notice persistent swelling, it is very important that you seek immediate medical advice (and get at least one second opinion) as early diagnosis and treatment improves both the prognosis and the condition. If your doctor has you taking water pills for a long period of time and the swelling does not dissipate then it is most likely lymphedema since water pills do not reduce the protein-rich fluid, they reduce sodium based fluid in the interstitial spaces of the limb. Over using water pills is extremely dangerous to a lymphedema patient as it can dehydrate the body and may cause a heart attack. When lymphedema remains untreated, protein-rich fluid continues to accumulate, leading to an increase of swelling and a hardening or fibrosis of the tissue. In this state, the swollen limb(s) becomes a perfect culture medium for bacteria and subsequent recurrent lymphangitis (infections). Moreover, untreated lymphedema can lead into a decrease or loss of functioning of the limb(s), skin breakdown, chronic infections and, sometimes, irreversible complications. In the most severe cases, untreated lymphedema can develop into a rare form of lymphatic cancer called Lymphangiosarcoma (most often in secondary

Treatments at OmniTherapy Center for Lymphedema:

If the lymphedema is not caused by infection: Depending on the severity of the lymphedema, the recommended treatment plan should be determined using an approach based on the Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) methods which is the methods used at OmniTherapy Center:
  • You'll be seen and treated by a NJ State Licensed Physical Therapist whom is LANA certified (Lymphology Association of North America) Lymphedema Therapist.
  • A special lymphatic massage will be performed known as: Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
  • Most likely your limb may require bandaging: using short stretch bandages.
  • Utilizing proper skin care
  • Why the use of compression garments, such as sleeves, stockings, (devices such as Mediven, Jobst, JUZO, CircAid, Solaris, etc.) as well as other alternative approaches.
  • Remedial therapeutic exercises at the gym.
  • Self-manual lymphatic drainage & short stretch bandaging education.
  • Patient & family member education to assist the patient. 
  • Kinesio Taping Techniques.
  • Omnitherapy Center does not use mechanical-compression pumps to treat Lymphedema; although there is room for certain multi-chamber-compression pumps in the field of lymphedema, most just move fluid from one area to a lesser area of the body giving you the false impression that it works. Unfortunately, if you do not urinate the extra "protein-rich fluid" out of the body then you're wasting your money and time with a pump.
  • Omnitherapy Center emphasizes the complete decongestive therapy whenever possible as this methods has been, and continue to be the "gold standard" of lymphedema treatment in Europe for the last 70 years.

     OmniTherapy Center
          1018 Broad Street, Suite 1
       Bloomfield, NJ 07003
     Tel.(973) 429-0890

        Hablamos Español

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