Treatments & Procedures

Lymphedema Treatment

What is Lymphedema?

Image showing the location of the lymph nodes within the human body.

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that transports lymph, a protein-rich fluid, back to the blood. Lymphedema is a chronic swelling disorder caused by an accumulation of this lymph fluid in the soft tissue. The buildup of stagnant fluid causes a mild to severe increase in limb girth, a decrease in tissue healing ability, and a high susceptibility to infections or cellulitis in the affected limb. Lymphedema most often occurs in the arm or leg, but can also occur in the face, neck, abdomen, or genitals. Primary lymphedema is the result of missing or impaired lymphatic vessels; symptoms may develop at birth or later in life. Secondary lymphedema, a much more common type, is a result of lymph vessel damage or lymph node removal during surgery or radiation therapy. It may also occur after injury, scarring, trauma, or infection of the lymphatic system.

Pictures showing different stages of arm swelling and leg swelling caused by lymphedema.

A Comprehensive Lymphedema Treatment Program

Evaluation

Evaluation done by a Physical or Occupational Therapist includes:

  • Complete medical history
  • Pain assessment
  • Functional Assessment
  • Girth measurements
  • Daily living and work requirements

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)

Manual technique which reroutes lymph around blocked or damaged lymph nodes. This technique also reduces the susceptibility for infection, softens tissue, reduces edema, and improves the appearance and functional use of the extremity.

A therapist performing Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) on patient's leg.

Compression Bandaging

Short stretch bandages are used to prevent the re-accumulation of evacuated lymph fluid and to break up deposits of accumulated scar and connective tissue. During the active phase of treatment, the bandages stay in place until the next MLD session begins. During the maintenance phase of lymphedema therapy, the client is encouraged to wear the bandages while sleeping.

Compression bandages on patient's leg.

Exercise, Skin Care, and Infection Prevention

Patients may be taught a series of low exertion exercises and diaphragmatic breathing to stimulate lymphatic return. Training on skin care, infection recognition and response is also included.

Home Maintenance Instructions

Patients are instructed on application, wearing schedule, and care of their compression garments and self-MLD techniques for the maintenance phase of therapy. Patients are assisted in the purchase, care, and replacement of an appropriate compression garment.

Pictures of patient's legs before and after CDT

The Lymphedema Therapists at Minnesota Vein Center are highly trained, certified professionals in lymphedema management. We look forward to demonstrating our care, compassion, and expertise as we partner with you to manage your lymphedema.

Headshot of Leslie

Leslie Benson, OTR/L, CLT-LANA, CPT

Leslie earned her occupational therapy degree from St. Catherine University in 1995, and subsequently certified as a lymphedema therapist with Lerner Lymphedema Services. She continued her training at the Dr. Vodder School International, Foeldi College in Germany, and with Klose Training. She is CLT-LANA certified since 2002. With over 25 years of experience, she has provided highly skilled and exceptional lymphedema treatment through private practice, hospital-based settings, and specialized home care services. She certified as a Physical Activity of Lymphedema specialist providing strength training for post breast cancer patients in 2014 and recently certified as a personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine.