How to Treat Lymphedema


If a part of the body swells, feels tight or heavy, or becomes painful, please report this to your doctor immediately. The earlier lymphedema is treated, the greater the chance that the swelling decreases or remains stable. Depending on the severity of the lymphedema and the type of lymphedema, the doctor will examine how the lymph edema should be treated.

The treatment of lymphedema consists of compression therapy , exercise therapy (movement), manual lymphatic drainage and skin care. It is also important to keep your body weight under control. In certain types of lymph edema, it may be considered to also use lymph taping for a period. Lymphedema is preferably treated via this non-surgical method. Only when the lymphedema does not remain stable during maintenance treatment can surgical bandaging be considered. The non-surgical treatment must then be continued.

It is important that the treatment of your lymphedema is carried out by a physiotherapist who specializes in edema therapy. Ask your attending doctor whom you can contact. Because lymphedema is a permanent problem, it is necessary that the person with lymphedema is able to treat the lymphedema (partially) himself. Most hospitals organize information sessions to learn and stimulate the self-treatment of lymphedema. You will learn in these sessions;

  • even apply a windel (bandage) yourself
  • apply the compression hose well
  • which exercises you can perform yourself
  • how you can apply lymphatic drainage yourself
  • how you can apply skin care yourself

Compression therapy

Compression therapy is the application of back pressure in the edema area by means of a bandage (windel) or a therapeutic stocking. Which form of compression is used depends on the type of edema, the condition of the patient and the treatment phase (is the goal to first reduce the edema volume or to stabilize it?).

In general, the swollen region is first ‘bandaged’ with a bandage (windel) in several layers. The dressing completely covers the skin. Its even pressure promotes the drainage of the tissue fluid. Due to the counter pressure of the dressing, the muscles press against the dressing during movement. As a result, the lymph fluid is pumped away as it were. If you move your arm or leg as normally as possible, it works as a kind of natural lymphatic massage.

Exercise therapy

Exercising has a beneficial effect on the lymph flow and on the entire immune system.

Exercise puts the muscles to work, they work like a pump that stimulates the functioning of the lymph vessels. The drainage of lymphatic fluid becomes five to fifteen times as high as a result.

Be advised and guided by your physiotherapist. He or she will teach you movement and breathing exercises. Do those exercises every day. They have a beneficial effect on lymph drainage and on the mobility of your arm or leg with lymphedema.

Manual lymphatic drainage

Manual lymph drainage is a massage technique with which the edema therapist stimulates the drainage of the lymph.

Skin care

In lymphedema, good skin care helps prevent infections and dehydration of the skin.

A few tips:

  • Apply a moisturizing lotion after taking a bath or shower.
  • Wear gloves when doing home or gardening and for any type of work where small wounds can be made at the level of the fingers, arms or legs.
  • Do you have lymphedema in your arm? Blood samples and injections are best done in the other arm.
  • Avoid any type of injury (blue spot, cut wound, sunburn, sports injury, insect bite, cat scratching…).

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