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If you have had lymph nodes removed during surgery, or you’ve had radiation therapy, you may experience swelling in the area of your chest, arms, underarms or legs—a result of a blockage in your lymphatic system. Treatment can reduce swelling and associated discomfort.
The lymphatic system drains lymph, a protein rich fluid, from tissue and helps fluid flow back to the circulatory system. Lymphedema occurs when that drainage system is blocked and fluid accumulates.
Untreated lymphedema may lead to weakness, stiffness, pain, numbness, pain, loss of function and impaired body image. Lymphedema can range from mild to severe, it can be temporary or permanent and it can occur immediately or several years after your cancer treatment with radiation and/or surgery.
Doctors may prescribe exercises before cancer treatment to prevent or lessen lymphedema. Inspira offers videos of some of these exercises on the MyInspira app.
Our Approach to Lymphedema Detection and Treatment
Inspira offers the most advanced diagnostic tools to detect lymphedema before swelling even occurs. Using the non-invasive ImpediMed SOZO device, Inspira providers can measure patients’ L-Dex score—a metric determined by the amount of fluid in the body that can indicate lymphedema before the onset of visible symptoms. Patients at risk for lymphedema after cancer treatment have baseline L-Dex scores taken before cancer treatment. L-Dex scores are taken again after treatment and treatment can start promptly if lymphedema is detected, sometimes, even before symptoms have occurred. treatment. L-Dex readings are measured in less than 30 seconds, allowing us to more effectively and efficiently treat Lymphedema.
Treatment can still be effective long after lymphedema in the arms or legs develops. Inspira physical therapists can help patients manage lymphedema through manual lymph drainage, compression bandaging, exercise and education about preventive care. The goal of therapy is to decrease the swelling in the arm or leg, assist with compression garment fittings to maintain the decrease in swelling and improve your function.
What to Know if you Have Lymphedema
If you have lymphedema, there are things you can do to assist in preventing further swelling, pain, numbness and discomfort.
- Protect the limb from being scratched, burnt or cut.
- Do not allow injections, blood draws or IVs in the involved extremity.
- Avoid close contact with pets that have claws and there is the risk of scratching.
- Wear gloves when gardening.
- Wear an oven mitt when handling hot items in the kitchen.
- Sew with a thimble to avoid pricking your fingers.
- Use an electric shaver with a narrow head for shaving your underarms. Use care when shaving.
- Do not use artificial nails and use your own tools when receiving a manicure.
Heat is harmful to your affected extremity. Protect your involved limb and avoid:
- Exposure to the sun that leads to sunburn.
- Wearing short sleeves. Wear long sleeves or your compression garment.
- Heat from saunas, hot tubs or steam rooms, which may aggravate your swelling.
- Compression of the affected arm (other than your compression garment).
- Having blood pressure taken on the affected arm.
- Tight clothes with elastic bands at the wrist or around the ankle.
- Wearing jewelry on the affected arm.
It is best to avoid intense activity of the affected arm, such as cleaning or an exercise program with high repetitions or high weights. Avoid lifting heavy packages or luggage with the affected arm. Use luggage on wheels or carrying items with the unaffected arm.
Skin irritants, such as harsh chemicals, insect bites or poison ivy can make your lymphedema worse.
Finally, be aware that airplane travel can aggravate your swelling. Always wear your compression garment when you travel by airplane.
L-Dex scores can be measured at Inspira’s Medical Centers in Vineland and Mullica Hill, Inspira Rehabilitation Services can use these scores in planning rehabilitation at eight convenient locations across South Jersey.