Most commonly, lymphedema occurs when lymph nodes are removed or damaged after surgery or from radiation treatment for cancer, particularly with breast, prostate and pelvic cancers, as well as lymphoma and melanoma.
Radiation and surgery can cause a blockage in the lymphatic system — part of your immune system — which prevents the fluid from draining properly. Lymphedema is most often seen in the arms and legs, but it can occur in other areas, too — depending on where lymph nodes were affected in the body.
There’s no cure for lymphedema, but a variety of rehabilitation therapies can help reduce swelling and control pain.
Advanced Care for Lymphedema
At El Camino Health, our Lymphedema Program is customized to meet each person’s unique needs. Our licensed physical therapists and certified lymphedema therapists develop a personalized program that includes early management, education and manual therapies.
Our therapists draw from a variety of techniques to minimize lymphedema symptoms, such as:
- Exercise – Gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises to help muscles contract and relax, facilitating lymph fluid circulation. Your therapist will create an exercise program for you, based on your condition and abilities.
- Compression – Specialized compression garments, sleeves and bandaging to help keep lymph moving in the right direction. Our therapists are specially trained to fit you properly, and they show you how to bandage areas safely and effectively.
- Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) – Light, gentle massage to move excess lymph fluid out of the tissues. MLD is performed by certified lymphedema therapists who are trained in this technique.
- Self-care instruction – Training and education on the techniques you can practice at home to minimize symptoms. Your therapist will teach you about compression garments, exercise, diet and recognizing the signs of infection.
- Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) – Combines all the therapies listed above to alleviate symptoms — often considered the "gold standard" of lymphedema treatment for more advanced lymphedema. The two-phase process involves an aggressive first phase that includes intensive therapy to eliminate excess lymph fluid to reduce pain and swelling. This is followed by a maintenance phase to continue the results.
Our therapists are experienced in determining the right therapies to help manage your condition. In order to participate in the Lymphedema Program, you need a doctor’s referral.