Lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system, responsible for fighting infections and filtering the blood. But when the lymphatic system becomes overloaded because of damage or disease, the fluid can accumulate and lead to a condition called lymphedema, a swelling of the affected area. Although lymphedema most commonly affects the arms and legs, it can develop anywhere in the body.
Primary lymphedema happens when the lymphatic system is not fully developed, which may or may not be caused by a genetic factor. Secondary lymphedema occurs in response to damage to the lymphatic system by an external source such as surgery, radiation, or the removal of lymph nodes.
Lucy, Gomez, Physical Therapy Assistant
"To treat lymphedema," says Community Hospital's Lucy Gomez, physical therapy assistant, "we use comprehensive physical therapy. Included in that is a massage technique that directs the fluid up and out of the limb toward the heart."
If the lymphedema is significant, patients wear a multilayered bandage or compression garment over the area, helping to move the fluid out of the limb.
"We also perform specific exercises to help with lymphatic flow," says Community Hospital's Wendy Neglay, physical therapist and doctor of physical therapy. "We educate patients about proper skin care so their skin doesn't dry and crack. The lymphatic system not only deals with fluid but is part of our immune system, so any openings in the skin can put the patient at greater risk for infection. We teach patients how to perform self-drainage and how to put on and care for their compression sleeve."