Lymphedema Therapy

We offer comprehensive lymphedema therapy to help you manage painful swelling in your arms and legs. Highly skilled therapists deliver expert treatment and create customized plans for long-term self-care.

Lymphedema treatment: Why choose Henry Ford?

People choose Henry Ford Health System for lymphedema treatment because we offer:

  • Expert team: You’ll be treated by a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT). Many of our experts have additional certifications from the Lymphology Association of North America (LANA). This extensive training means you receive care from an experienced team.
  • Care coordination: Lymphedema therapists stay in close communication with your referring provider. We work with oncologists, surgeons, vascular specialists and primary care providers to ensure you receive complete, coordinated care.
  • Easy access: We offer lymphedema therapy at many locations throughout southeast and south central Michigan. Our extensive network makes it easy to get care at a time and place that works for you.
  • Preventive care: We can partner with you and your doctors before surgery or radiation therapy to reduce the risk of lymphedema. Therapists can monitor your lymphatic health and provide self-care tips throughout cancer treatment.

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling in the arms or legs caused by a lymphatic fluid backup. Cancer treatment, especially breast cancer surgery, is one of the most common causes of lymphedema. When lymph nodes are removed, the body can’t process and remove fluid normally.

Other causes of lymphedema are:

  • Blood flow issues
  • Obesity
  • Trauma

Symptoms of lymphedema may include:

  • Difficulty walking, standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Inability to wear normal fitting clothing and shoes
  • Nerve pain and numbness in the arms and legs
  • Pain or heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Tightness of the skin (feels like skin is stretching/pulling)

What to expect from lymphedema treatment

Your certified lymphedema therapist will carefully review your medical history and symptoms. We also evaluate your:

  • Arm or leg measurements to map progress throughout therapy
  • Mobility, strength and range of motion
  • Skin quality and texture in the swollen areas

Most importantly, we find out how lymphedema is affecting your quality of life. Are there certain tasks you can’t perform? Are you having trouble at work? Are you sleeping? We take all of these factors into consideration when we create your customized lymphedema treatment plan.

Since there is no cure for lymphedema, the condition will likely require lifelong management. It’s essential that you commit to the self-care component of lymphedema treatment. Our therapists will provide you with the education and resources you need to achieve a successful outcome.

Complete decongestive therapy (CDT)

The lymphedema therapists at Henry Ford use a technique called complete decongestive therapy (CDT). This multistage therapy program focuses on reducing swelling and maintaining those results in the long term. Depending on the severity of your lymphedema, CDT can take three to six weeks.

Complete decongestive therapy includes:

  • Lymphatic drainage massage
  • Compression bandaging
  • Exercise
  • Skin care

Lymphatic drainage massage

The first goal of CDT is to reduce lymphatic swelling. Our therapists are specially trained in lymphatic drainage massage, or manual lymphatic drainage.

This hands-on therapy pushes excess lymphatic fluid to areas of the body that contain functioning lymph nodes. We train the body to reroute fluid to these healthy areas. For example, if you’ve had breast cancer surgery on your left side, we may try to massage excess fluid toward the right side of the chest or down toward the groin.

Compression bandaging

After reducing swelling with lymphatic massage, we prevent further fluid buildup by applying compression bandages. You may wear a stocking, sleeve or other type of compression garment during therapy and at home. Patients need to commit to wearing compression garments for about 20 hours each day to achieve the best results. This is typically done for a few weeks. Then we help you transition into a compression stocking for long-term, daytime use. Therapists can recommend supplies and teach you or your caregiver how to wrap and remove bandages.

Exercise

Exercise can help move fluid out of the extremities. We create a custom fitness program based on your mobility level and the severity of your lymphedema. You should continue to wear your compression garments during exercise. We may also recommend deep breathing exercises, which can move lymph through the bloodstream.

Skin care

We monitor your skin closely and teach you how to keep it clean, dry and moisturized. As skin stretches from fluid buildup, small tears can develop that may lead to infections or wounds.

Find a location

Henry Ford offers lymphedema at multiple locations throughout southeast and south central Michigan. Contact a location near you to schedule an appointment.

Explore our blogs

Read blog articles and patient stories to learn more about lymphedema:

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Henry Ford Health System is committed to ensuring our Deaf or hard-of-hearing patients and visitors have equal access to all services. We provide the appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, TTYs and other assistive listening devices, at no cost. To request assistance, call 313-916-1896 or email [email protected].

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