Lymphedema can affect people of all ages for a variety of reasons. It presents as an accumulation of fluid (swelling) in a region of the body when the lymphatic system is compromised and unable to manage the flow of lymphatic fluid. While it continues to be an area with many unanswered questions, there is a great deal that can be done to treat lymphedema.
Causes of Lymphedema
Lymphedema can be caused by a congenital malformation of the lymphatic system. It may be present at birth or develop later in life. More commonly, lymphedema may result from surgery or radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer. Other causes include trauma or infection of the lymphatic system. Severe venous insufficiencies may also contribute to the onset of lymphedema.
How is Lymphedema Treated?
At Sibley, an individualized treatment approach is developed based on the physician’s prescription, a thorough evaluation, and discussion with the patient about his/her goals and needs. Treatment includes some combination of:
- Manual Lymph Drainage: Gentle rhythmic massage to promote the flow of lymph fluid.
- Compression Bandaging: Application of layers of short-stretch bandages to help minimize swelling by providing resistance against the skin and muscles underneath.
- Exercise: Patients are instructed in specific flexibility, strengthening, posture, breathing and aerobic exercises designed to improve lymphatic flow and help control lymphedema.
- Patient Education: Many lifestyle modifications can impact lymphatic potential, and each patient’s needs and questions will be addressed. Throughout the rehabilitation program, whether you need to be seen once or for ongoing treatments, we will be educating you so that you have the knowledge and skills to manage your particular needs independently.
Who Will Be Treating Me?
The physical and occupational therapists dedicated to this program are certified in lymphedema treatment. An interdisciplinary approach is used with ongoing communication between therapist, patient and physician. All sessions are conducted in private treatment rooms. The primary goals of therapy include: reduction of swelling, patient education, exercise and improved quality of life.
How Do I Get Referred?
Your physician can provide a prescription if lymphedema treatment is indicated.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Sibley Center for Rehabilitation Medicine at 202-364-7665.