Buddy Check 16: Lymphedema Therapy

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When lymph nodes are removed during breast surgery to prevent the cancer from spreading, the flow of fluid in the body is changed and can lead to swelling — known as lymphedema.

“It’s kind of like a blocked highway, we want to re-route the ‘traffic,’ or the fluid, rather,” explained lymphedema therapist Cariss Edge. “That way, the body is able to get rid of it more efficiently.”

Edge says the patient then goes through the intensive phase with manual lymphatic drainage as part of complete decongestive therapy.

“It’s different from traditional massage,” Edge continued. “We don’t cause friction, we want to do a skin stretch because it mimics the normal rhythm that they lymphatic system makes.”

And treatment varies depending on the individual.

“Anywhere between one to three visits, anywhere between two to eight-plus weeks,” Edge added.

Once complete, patients move on to the maintenance phase.

“That’s when you use your training that we’ve taught you to maintain the progress you made during therapy,” said Edge.

Angela Mangler is also a certified lymphedema therapist with Freeman Health System.

“It’s about getting the patient to be as independent as possible to manage their swelling in the bigger picture,” Mangler explained.

Mangler says during this second phase, patients will use 24/7 compression with specially designed bandages to keep the lymphatic system working properly.

“Every time you move with that bandage on, it’s maximizing on that muscle pump, getting the swelling out much faster than just walking alone,” Mangler added. “Walking with your bandages on — that is therapeutic.”

The end goal is to get a patient into compression garments, which are changed every six months. And while the cost can add up quickly, she says they are well worth it.

“Compression garments keep the swelling from returning. Compression bandages get the swelling out,” said Mangler.

This Buddy Check 16 story is sponsored by Freeman Health System.

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