What are Treatments for Lymphadema?

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  • Written By: Aniza Pourtauborde
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 December 2018
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There is no cure for lymphadema, but there are treatments to minimize swelling and reduce discomfort. These treatments are conducted under a single therapy called complete decongestive therapy (CDT). It has three elements: manual lymph drainage, compression therapy, and self-management techniques.

The lymphatic system consists of three parts: protein-rich lymph fluid, lymph vessels, and lymph nodes containing infection-fighting cells, or lymphocytes. The system begins by disseminating lymph fluid throughout the body. This fluid flows through the lymph vessels, collecting waste products, bacteria, and viruses and conducting them to the lymph nodes where they are filtered and drained out by lymphocytes.

Lymphadema occurs when there is a blockage in the lymphatic system, preventing natural drainage of the fluid. It accumulates, resulting in an abnormal swelling of tissues in the arms or legs. There are two types: primary lymphadema, which is an inherited disorder, and secondary lymphadema, which is an acquired disorder caused by damage or trauma to the lympathic system. Both can be treated with CDT.

Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a specialized massage technique performed by qualified therapists. The massages stimulate the flow of lymph fluids from damaged lymph nodes and redirect them into healthier ones so that fluids can drain normally. MLD treatment lasts between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of the problem in the affected limb. Four to 14 treatments over two to four weeks reduce swelling in the limbs.


Some patients feel the need to urinate often after MLD, because excess lymph fluids are processed by the kidneys and pass out of the body as urine. As a result, drinking plenty of water before and after the treatment is important to prevent dehydration. MLD should be avoided by people who have received cancer radiation therapy in the affected areas, and patients should speak with a medical professional before proceeding with MLD if they have skin infections, congestive heart failure, blood clots, cellulitis, or active cancer.

Compression therapy is conducted between MLD treatments to maintain and enhance the progress already made. Various compression methods place pressure on the tissues in the affected limb, aiding in the natural drainage of excess fluids. Compression also minimizes and prevents additional swelling. Lymphadema can be compressed with bandages, compression aids and garments.

Bandages are most effective, since they are adjustable to the different sizes of the affected limb pre- and post-treatment. Furthermore, bandages are flexible, as they can be worn when a person is active or resting. Compression garments, such as knit two-way stretch sleeves or stockings, are worn only while the patient is awake, and they assist in controlling swelling and moving lymph fluids from the affected area. Compression aids are custom-made of fabric covering a layer of foam. These aids include pads, sleeves and stockings and are worn in the evening or during sleep.

Lymphadema treatments are supplemented with self-care techniques such as regular decongestive exercises, a consistent skin care regimen, and self-massage between MLD treatments. Decongestive exercises move lymph fluids out of the affected limb, and a healthcare professional can provide advice on an exercise plan. A skin care regimen is crucial to prevent skin infections, such as cellulitis and fungal attacks. Patients should keep the skin clean and moisturize it with low pH lotions.

An essential technique to manage lymphadema is self-massage. Self-massage methods are similar to MLD massages and stimulate lymph vessels to improve flow and drainage of excess lymph fluids. A qualified therapist can provide patients with instructions on a daily self-massage program, and it should only be done as often as advised by the therapist.

CDT treatments are typically non-invasive, reliable, and effective, but in severe cases, a therapist may recommend surgery to remove excess tissues in the limbs.


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Post 15

I have been getting massage therapy for lymphadema that I got after getting my bladder and some lymph nodes taken out. My scrotum is now the size of a grapefruit. Besides massaging and the pressure machine, which doesn't go near the sac, what can I do about it?

Post 14

I am a 61 year old female who has been diagnosed with lymphedema in my right leg. The swelling in the past five years was only noticeable after standing for long periods. In recent months, however, my leg never goes down, not even when elevated. I cannot wear my shoes anymore because the right one will never fit. Is there a national state registry for lymph edema doctors?

Post 13

I have had lymphedema in my left leg and up until the bottom of my ribs on my left side since I was 9 years old. I'm now 26 and have had a son within this last year. I've noticed throughout my trials with this that 1: If I gained weight my leg got bigger. 2) The more I'm on it, the more it gets swollen. 3) People say to elevate it but many physical therapists have said it doesn't do much at all for it because it's not like a normal swelling situation. 4) Water that is too hot or too cold can cause problems with your leg. My leg hurts almost on a daily basis, especially now and

it's more swollen than it's ever been. I've been scratched and have leaked the clear lymph fluid and have had cellulitus. Neither is fun.

I've noticed I get more pain when my leg is elevated and when the swelling has gone down. I'm honestly out of options since I work 40 hours a week. I had my leg wrapped for two weeks and that did the best for me but I couldn't wear pants. I had to wear a skirt for the two weeks. So does anyone else have anything they use? I'm working on getting a lymphedema pump, the compression stockings that I've had all bunch up around my knee or my ankle and cause a lot of pain due to cutting the circulation off. So any help would be nice.

Post 12

I have been told I have lymphedema from scar tissue from a shoulder surgery. The ultrasound and said it was secondary to severe scar tissue. I have severe pain, can't sleep, and am leaking a clear fluid from my vagina, and also now leaking urine. I don't know what to do. Anybody know anything about this clear globby fluid that leaks out?

Post 11

I'm a 36 year old male who has had lymphedema for over 26 years now. It started when I was 10 years old in my left ankle and a year later spread to my left ankle. After a couple years it went north up both of my legs and about 5 years into it, it had made it to my thigh areas. About 10 years of a doctor telling me to just elevate and and stuck like a guinea pig the diagnosis was bi-lateral lymphedema in my legs.

About the age of 18, it had gotten to the point where I could barely bend my knees and needed help desperately. I found a clinic in New Jersey and they were

performing manual lymph drainage and it was a 8 week program I attended. I made it through it and my legs had subsided to almost normal size. This was back in 1996 and I was so happy, and from that point what I was doing was wearing double layer juzo 40-50 mh on each leg and was able to maintain good size for all these years. Now I'm not saying I was like perfectly normal but good enough that I could wear normal jeans and no one knew I ever had an issue.

But the story goes on. about five years after that I had a problem arise in my testicles. one of them started to swell. I really didn't have a problem with it but as a man when cold water hit and they shrunk up it would feel uncomfortable. So I decided to talk to my doctor about it and he said that this really had nothing to do with my lymphedema and that it was called a hydrocele and that this could be a simple surgery and no worries about my legs from this. well OK I said and went along and had it done. no issues – that is, right away! About a year later, on my scrotum I noticed areas of what looked like little white pimples all over and they would not go away. I had the doctor look at them and he said it was from the surgery and it was little lymph lines that had been cut and had nowhere to go so they surfaced. So now I have these little areas that are pimple like as far as looking but not hurting at all, but here's the crappy part of all this and this is where I am needing some help, if anyone has heard of or knows anyone that can help me on this. The little pimples may break every now and then and leak lymph fluid out. They leak until I take all my compression stockings off and elevate my legs.

Now I try to live a normal life but lately this has been happening more and more and this leaking will not stop. I have gone as far as having to buy something like a "depends" for old people and keep it with me to trap the fluid. And it sucks! I have tried to talk to doctors but they always say the freaking same thing: "Get off your feet", and sometimes that's just not an option, like this present moment. I really would love to help anyone that needs any info or more info on their issues but if anyone can help me I really could use some here. Does anyone else have some sort of draining issue? or leaking issue? If anyone has any info to help out I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

Post 10

can c-sections cause lymphedema?

Post 9

I now have lymphadema after back surgery. A simple surgery for sciatica that left me with my right leg almost useless. I am in therapy for the lymphadema and also my leg. I can stand on the leg and lock my knee and sort of walk with a walker. I can use my muscles to raise my knee and my food to the rear, but not much to the front. My question is this: I am having more swelling in the right leg (the affected one)than in the left and have a lot of pain in the upper hip and buttock region. The pain is almost more than I can stand if I move my leg while laying down, but not much at all while standing or setting. Could this pain be from the lymphadema instead of a nerve or muscle? It gets worse as my swelling gets worse?

Post 8

I have had swelling of my feet and ankles since I was 24 years old. I am now 36 and both my feet are swollen. I was diagnosed with lymphedema about 3 years ago. My swelling is mild to very swollen depending on how often I compressed the area. How come there hasn't been enough research done on this topic. So many people are suffering from lymphadema and all any doctors are able to say is to elevate your feet and wear support stockings. What about nutrition? I hear ginger and turmeric are great in reducing inflammation. Can you talk a bit about that. Or about any natural treatments that can help. --CT

Post 7

Can a hot tub with cool water be beneficial to a lymphadema leg?

Post 6

First, I am a lymphadema specialist in NC. Leduc trained. I have comments for all anon questions and Bonita:

17195: from what you describe: sounds possibly like a cellulitis, but only a physician can diagnose. When my patients have those symptoms, blood tests and sometimes Doppler studies (ultrasounds) are sometimes used. Find a good internist or someone familiar with lymphadema to help guide you.

16240: check your closest hospital, even a cancer center for a listing of lymphadema


Bonita: I have treated chest wall lymphadema. I have a patient with eyelid/face lymphadema due to an venous blockage...the point is lymphadema can occur for many reasons...still needs to be treated. It is more than just pushing the

fluid back into the lymph system. Your normal lymph pathways have been disrupted and there are alternative pathways (in addition to traditional pathways) a knowledgeable lymphadema therapist should know. Choose your provider wisely.

4693: yes altitude can effect lymphadema. One of the precautions is must be wrapped or wear garment when flying....

Post 5

I have lymphodema (swelling) in my lower legs - ankle region. The area of swelling up toward my knees is a fiery red, and feels warm. The skin looks almost like it has first degree burns. Sometimes vertical welts full of fluid occur. No medical physicians, to include dermatology and vascular, seem to be able to diagnose the redness, except to say it's possibly a blood disorder/infection, and prescribe different antibiotics, which don't work. Affected area burns, itches, has shooting pains, and is very unsightly. Any suggestions for treatment/relief?

Post 4

I have lymphadema in just my left foot and cannot find a mld therapist to try the mld treatment/massage. Is there anyone that could recommend where to find one?

Post 3

I posted the question about treatment for lymphadema in the chest wall. I have not seen any comments listed, but I have found some ideas. I read on this site that massage was one of the primary treatments for lymphadema in the arms (or legs). Then I was discussing the problem with my chiropractor who has massage therapists on staff. He said, his massage therapist could do the job. I have had my first massage and it seems to have helped. It's a matter of pushing the fluid out of the area and into the lymphatic system. This is important because infection can set in if the fluid doesn't move. Does this jive with what anyone else has found?

Post 2

After having a mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes, I developed swelling in the chest wall starting in the area of the lymph nodes and expanding over into the breast area. Your article does not deal with lymphadema in that area, but as there seems to be no other explanation, I would like to know if you have anything on this and would the massage techniques mentioned in your article be applicable to chest wall lymphadema?

Post 1

Does altitude affect lymphadema?

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