Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation
Lymphedema Therapy at Sharp
Helping you prevent lymphedema following breast cancer treatment.
At Sharp, we understand the road to recovery after surgery or radiation can be challenging. We're committed to helping you take the next steps in your healing, and part of that process is ensuring you're aware of a common side effect of breast cancer treatment — a condition called lymphedema.
The connection between breast cancer and lymphedema.
Lymphedema is chronic swelling caused by a disruption to your body's lymphatic system — a network of tiny tubes and lymph nodes that carry nutrient-rich fluid, called lymph, throughout the body, filtering bacteria and waste. Lymphedema can cause pain, restrict movement, lead to a serious infection and lessen your quality of life.
Breast cancer patients are often at risk for lymphedema. When lymph nodes are removed during surgery or treated with radiation, damage occurs — making it harder for the lymphatic system to remove or clean fluid. As the fluid backs up, swelling and inflammation occur.
We're here to help you prevent this condition and to provide proper treatment when necessary.
Signs and symptoms of lymphedema
Although there is no cure for lymphedema, there are many treatments that can restore some movement and reduce pain and swelling. The chance of improving the condition is better if treatment begins early.
Treatments can include:
- Exercise — staying physically active will increase the flow of lymph fluid
- Compression garments — an elastic, custom-fitted sleeve that applies graduated pressure to help fluid drain
- Manual lymphatic drainage — gentle arm massage to stimulate movement of lymph fluid
- Compression bandaging — helps to decrease the size of the limb before compression garment fitting
- Skin and nail care
- Pneumatic compression pump use
Speak with your doctor or a lymphedema therapist about what exercises or treatments are right for you.
How you can reduce your lymphedema risk
Here's how you can minimize your risk of developing lymphedema.
- When possible, have injections, blood pressure measurements or blood draws done from the arm opposite of where you had your surgery
- Alert each health care professional you encounter that you are at risk for developing lymphedema
- Keep your skin clean
- Moisturize your skin after bathing
- Always wear sunscreen outside
- Avoid cuts, scratches, burns, hangnails and insect bites
- If needed, treat promptly with antibacterial medication
- Avoid prolonged exposure to heat and cold
- Avoid wearing tight jewelry or clothing
- Wear gloves when doing housework or yardwork
- Rest your arm in an elevated position (above your heart or shoulder)
- Ask your doctor if you should wear a compression sleeve or bandages when flying
Diet and weight
- Reduce or eliminate salt from your diet, as salt causes fluid retention
- Stay hydrated and do not limit what you drink in an effort to reduce swelling
- Watch your weight — excess pounds put greater demands on the lymphatic system's ability to drain fluid
We're here to help.
If you have any concerns or experience any lymphedema symptoms, please contact your doctor to request a referral to a certified lymphedema therapist.
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