Lymphedema/venous edema is swelling that occurs in your legs or arms. The swelling is caused when your lymph vessels are not functioning properly. This can be the result of surgery, injury, venous insufficiency, radiation, or a birth defect. Swelling can occur immediately following surgery or even weeks, months or years later.
Lymphedema before treatment, top, and after treatment, bottom.
Signs and Symptoms
If you develop any of the below listed warning signs, promptly report them to your doctor. If treatment of venous edema/lymphedema begins early, the chance of improvement is much better than if the symptoms are ignored.
- Swelling, usually in an arm or leg/legs
- Pitting/denting of the tissue of the swollen arm/leg. This can be noted when you push down and leave a fingerprint or your socks leave marks.
- Hardening of the skin in this area
- Skin that appears tight, shiny, discolored, or having a brown, golden or purple appearance.
Why Treat Lymphedema/Venous Edema?
If untreated, the condition may worsen resulting in:
- Increased risk of infection of the swollen areas
- Cellulitis, a serious infection of the skin cells
- Hardening of the tissue
- Loss of movement of the arm or leg
- Decreased ability to perform normal daily tasks
Evaluation and Treatment
While there is no cure, early intervention with a comprehensive lymphedema or venous edema treatment program can reverse the swelling process and allow the person to self manage. After your doctor has diagnosed your condition as venous edema/lymphedema they will need to write a referral for therapy. You will be evaluated by an Occupational Therapist specifically trained in manual therapy for lymphatic drainage. Therapy may include any or all of the following:
- Specialized massage to remove and reroute the fluid
- Use of compression stockinette and/or bandaging to help decrease the swelling
- Simple active exercises
- A home program for specialized massage, exercises, and compression stockinette and/or bandaging
- Use of a compression garment for long-term management of swelling
Medicare and most insurance companies cover occupational therapy for treatment of lymphedema.
If you are suffering from swelling caused by lymphedema/venous edema contact your doctor for a referral to Occupational Therapy. If you have any questions/concerns please contact RAMC’s Rehab Department at (608) 768-6120.