Swelling can cause accumulation of excess blood and lymphatic fluid to an area and is our body’s natural reaction to try to protect itself from foreign substances, heal traumatized tissue, and prevent ,with time our body heals properly without much difficulty, though sometimes it is much more serious. Regardless of the cause of edema, it is important to address the condition early and correctly to prevent debilitating condition called Lymphedema.
Lymphedema is a condition caused by chronic swelling of limbs, trunk, neck, or head that comes from the clear fluid in our blood (plasma) and an accumulation of protein in the small space between our skin and underlying tissues that gels together and stops the normal flow of lymphatic fluid. When this fluid is not allowed to circulate properly, our body cannot fight infection, destroy cancer cells, or drain excess water from tissues.
The heavy protein-rich fluid creates too much outward pressure under the skin causing the tissues to break down, the skin to stretch, become tight, and even break open to allow fluid to leak out of the skin. The openings in the skin can allow bacteria to enter the body, and without proper lymph circulation the body cannot fight the infection, causing a serious, life-threatening condition called cellulitis.
Along with the risk of cellulitis, lymphedema can cause a severe stretching in the skin that becomes large, heavy lobules that hang down and prevent normal range of motion in our ankles, knees, hips, trunk, shoulders, elbows, wrists and even neck. The resulting impairment to mobility and function in daily activities can become very debilitating and even humiliating due to the severely disfiguring nature of this condition.Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLT) are physical, occupational, speech, and/or massage therapists who have additional education and training to identify the cause of swelling, evaluate the severity of condition, and address the issues related to the problem using specialized techniques. Without this training many therapists fail to identify the specific cause, do not know the correct way to treat the edema, and can even make the condition worse by providing the wrong treatment. By using a specific type of massage, followed by the use of compression bandaging, your therapist is able to encourage proper lymphatic drainage and remove excess fluid from the space between the skin and muscle. Once this fluid is removed, the therapist is able to help the patient select the appropriate style, type, and proper-fitting compression garments to prevent the swelling from returning.
If you or someone you know have an illness, had surgery, or are experiencing a condition that has caused you to swell, visit with your doctor to refer you to our lymphedema specialist at Intermountain Logan Regional Hospital, 435.716.5010.
Bio: Jay P. Andersen, MOT, OTR/L, CLT, is an occupational therapist with 12 years experience in geriatric, neurological, psychological, cognitive, and orthopedic rehabilitation. He has specialized training and certification in lymphedema therapy which allows him to provide unique treatment and counsel to residents in Cache Valley and the surrounding communities who require services for cancer-related swelling (edema), post-surgical edema, lymphedema, sports injuries, or other inflammatory conditions affecting the lymphatic system.