Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a component of Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) which is the current recommended treatment for lymphedema.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a failure of the lymphatic system whereby inadequate drainage of fluid and proteins results in swelling of tissues. This swelling is typically in the arms and legs, but can occur elsewhere such as the breasts, thorax, and genitals.
Who can get Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is common in patients who have undergone surgical procedures, removal of lymph nodes or radiation therapy, for the treatment of various cancers such as breast, ovarian, prostate, testicular, bladder, colon, and head and neck cancer. These occurrences are known as secondary lymphedema.
Primary lymphedema can occur when there is a malformation of the lymphatic system in utero. The lymphedema may manifest at birth, puberty, or later in life.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
The affected limb may feel tight and heavy. There may also be pain from associated nerve injuries, obstruction of veins, and strain on ligaments due to excess weight of the limb. If left untreated, there is a risk of loss of function of the limb and increased possibility of chronic infection.
Treatment of Lymphedema
As mentioned, Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is the recommended treatment. This consists of Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) provided by a qualified therapist, compression therapy, exercise and skin care. There are generally two phases to CDT; reduction phase and maintenance phase.
Reduction is achieved through intensive MLD treatment, bandaging, exercise and skin care. It is the patients diligence with exercise and skin care that assists the therapist with reducing limb volume.
Maintenance is achieved through ongoing MLD treatment, compression garments, continued exercise and skin care.