While most lymphedema therapy services focus on disease management, which patients are expected to complete at home, it can be difficult not to have regular appointments as a way to check in to make sure at-home treatments and exercises are being done correctly and efficiently Lymphedema treatments, such as manual lymphatic drainage, must be done properly, as the correct massage strokes and techniques are required to reduce limb size, improve comfort/reduce pain levels, and maximize functional mobility.
The Physical Therapists from our Lymphedema Treatment Program have put together these tips to help guide lymphedema patients through their home exercise program. Follow these tips and check out the internet and video resource links at the end to guide you as you manage your lymphedema at home!
- Skin care is a constant, daily necessity to maintain moisturized, healthy skin. It will help reduce the risk of skin breakdown and tears and reduce skin infections like cellulitis. If you ever suspect an infection (fever, warm to touch, redness), seek medical attention immediately.
- Always complete manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) in a quiet, relaxing room. Dim or turn off the lights if possible and play relaxing music in the background. Begin diaphragmatic breathing. Refer to video if needed. Initially, if helpful, play a video of self MLD to guide you to use the correct sequences and stroke techniques
- Research has shown that lymphatic activation/flow is improved with relaxation. (EVERYONE can use some relaxation at any time in their lives—but now most especially!) Diaphragmatic breathing/deep breathing exercises can be completed at any time throughout the day to help improve relaxation. MLD can also be completed throughout the day, as many times as needed.
- **If your therapist or doctor has recommended the use of a pneumatic compression pump, the same rules apply. Relaxation is just as important: complete the sequence in a dimly lit room and comfortable position. Always complete diaphragmatic breathing throughout the pump program and the cervical/axillary/inguinal (if necessary) prep sequences as instructed by your therapist prior to beginning the program.
- Follow the recommendations for compression from your therapist or doctor. Everyone is at different stages of their recovery/disease process. Some may require compression bandaging, over the counter compression garments, custom made compression garments, or day and/or night time garments. Discuss options with your medical professional. If you feel that your limb is changing in size and can no longer comfortably don/doff or wear your compression garment as recommended, contact your therapist for further recommendations. If possible, set up an appointment. If not, try to complete MLD more frequently in order to reduce the limb for improved fit/comfort. There are a number of donning/doffing aides that can help, but you might need to trial a variety of devices before finding which one works best for you!
- Lastly, if your therapist has given you remedial exercises to help maintain the size of your limb, complete them as recommended. If not, try to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle as safely and often as possible! If you own compression garments (sleeves, Velcro pieces), always complete exercise with them donned to help maximize reduction.
Below are a few resources that can help educate patients, families, and caregivers on lymphedema. These organizations have websites, as well as YouTube channels that have videos for education, as well as treatment guidance.
- National Lymphedema Network: lymphnet.org
Informative website and YouTube channe
- National Lympedema Network guidelines and recommendations regarding lymphedema patients and the recent COVID-19 pandemic: https://lymphaticnetwork.org/documents/LSN_LERN_Covid19_Guidelines_2020.pdf
- Klose Training: klosetraining.com
Under Resources and self care videos-top tool bar. Also has a YouTube channel.
- American Cancer Society: http://cancer.org
Search lymphedema. Provides a variety of education/resources for patients, caregivers, and families.