Physiotherapy for Lymphedema #3

Treatment of lymphedema

As discussed in our last article, the presence of lymphoedema involves a blockage of the lymphatic flow, which prevents the fluid from circulating normally in the body. This is common following surgery to eliminate breast cancer because partial or complete removal of the lymphatic system can be performed.

In this region (often the arm), it is therefore not unusual that lymphoedema will appear, because the lymph is no longer naturally filtered by the body. The risk of developing lymphoedema is therefore positively correlated with the number of lymph nodes affected by the disease, because they are eliminated during surgery.

Lymphedema, which is also synonymous with soft tissue swelling, may appear after surgery that involves lymph nodes. It could arise during the weeks or up to a year after the operation.

Frequent consequences of lymphedema
  • Shoulder pain
  • Reduced muscular flexibility
  • Loss of joint mobility of the shoulder
  • Swelling of the arm
  • Decrease quality of life
Physiotherapist’s treatment

During the assessment, the physiotherapist begins with a detailed history of the evolution of the breast cancer and lymphedema. This continues with specific physical measures, such as flexibility, joint range, severity of swelling, and coordination of movements in the affected area. Then, the analysis of the results of the clinical evaluation will be used to establish the diagnosis and establish a unique treatment plan for each person.

Here are some examples of specific management of lymphedema:

  • Prevention, hygiene and management measures for lymphedema
  • Active and individualized exercises for shoulder, neck and thorax
  • Postural treatment of lymphedema
  • Specific mobilization of the affected joints
  • Emphasis on stage-specific and severity-specific cardiovascular activation
    • Walking, cycling, running
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
  • Strengthening and coordination of the muscles
  • Training plan with elastic bands with variable resistance
The physiotherapist will take charge of the unique condition associated with lymphedema  using interventions specific to the individuals needs. In addition, the physiotherapist provides tools to prevent the deterioration of the situation, in addition to working to maintain the long-term gains. The program will include physical activity and is focused on well-being to achieve a healthier and more active lifestyle.