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More than 10 million Americans suffer from lymphedema, yet most of us know very little about this chronic and progressive condition.

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What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling that generally occurs in the arms and legs when the lymph system is damaged. It can be hereditary, and in the United States, lymphedema is most often linked to cancer surgery and radiation treatments. Symptoms include heaviness, achiness, tightness, and reduced range of motion in an arm or leg.
Early diagnosis and treatment has shown to improve your chances of successfully managing lymphedema.

“At UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, our certified lymphedema therapists are specially trained in treating the condition,” says Lisa Mager, MPT, CLT-LANA, WCS, physical therapist at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute outpatient rehabilitation clinic in Cranberry Township. “They will work with you and your doctor to create a personalized care plan.”

The primary goal of treatment is to control swelling and improve movement in the affected limb. While there are several methods for managing lymphedema, UPMC uses the gold standard treatment — complete decongestive therapy (CDT) — to gently move excess fluid out of the swollen area so that it can drain into the body.

RELATED: Managing Lymphedema During and After Breast Cancer Treatment

Complete decongestive (CDT) therapy includes:

  • Compression bandaging and compression garments to encourage fluids to flow out of the affected area and to help prevent them from returning.
  • Massage, using a light-touch technique known as manual lymph drainage.
  • Development of a personal exercise plan to encourage fluid drainage and build your strength for everyday tasks.
  • Skin care and hygiene tips to avoid injury and infection, and to keep skin from getting dry and cracked.
  • Education about the importance of long-term management and at-home care.

“In order to maintain results, it’s extremely important for patients to follow the treatment plan they’ve developed with their therapist,” Mager says.

If you have symptoms of lymphedema — especially if you are a cancer survivor — talk to your doctor immediately. Learn more about lymphedema management and treatment at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, or call 1-888-723-4277 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.