A Certified Specialist is the "gold standard" for lymphedema treatment. Therapists must complete 135 hours of coursework focusing on anatomy & physiology of the lymphatics system, Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), and compression garment fitting. They are trained to treat and manage lymphedema and other related conditions affecting different parts of the body.
It is estimated that over 250 million people worldwide suffer from the effects of lymphedema with most lymphedema in the US resulting from breast cancer surgery. One in eight women will develop cancer during their life, with 42% developing lymphedema, 1 year post-op & 50-75%, 5 years post-op. Other causes include surgery, trauma, infection, and severe venous insufficiencies.
Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich "lymphatic fluid" in the superficial tissues caused by damage to the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is responsible for draining lymphatic fluid outside of the cells which cannot be reabsorbed by the blood system. Lymphedema may occur in the face, trunk, extremity, abdomen, or groin. Once present, this condition continues to progress.
There is no cure for lymphedema; however, the goal of therapy is to decongest the area and maintain the reduction. Lymphedema can be effectively treated using Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).
CDT has four components:
- Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is a specialized massage technique that improves the activity of the lymph vessels. It is used to re-route the lymph flow around the blocked areas and into healthy lymph vessels to be drained into the venous system.
- Compression Bandages are applied to the effected limb after MLD. Compression prevents the reaccumulation of fluid, improves function of the muscle pump, promotes venous and lymphatic return, and provides support for tissues that have lost their elasticity.
- Exercise helps move fluid from under bandaged areas and through the system by aiding the effect of the joint and muscle pump and improving lymph circulation.
- Skin and nail care are important to reduce of the risk of infections, supply moisture to the dry skin, and reduce hyperkeratosis and other skin conditions associated with lymphedema.