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Lymphoedema

What is Lymphoedema?

It refers to swelling in an arm or leg caused by a lymphatic system blockage.

Can physiotherapy help people with lymphoedema?

Yes. Physiotherapy is effective in preventing and managing lymphoedema. It also helps to reduce long term disability, work related problems, emotional difficulties and improves quality of life.

What causes lymphoedema?

There are two types of lymphoedema:

  • Primary lymphoedema which refers to a structural problem with the lymphatic system that can either be congenital (occurring before birth), may develop during puberty of middle age. The cause is structural

  • Secondary lymphoedema is caused by obstructions in the lymphatic drainage system. These obstructions can occur from the following:

    1. surgery – particularly cancer-related surgery where lymph nodes are removed
    2. radiotherapy – the x-rays used to kill cancer cells may damage or destroy the nearby lymph nodes
    3. trauma – an injury to a lymphatic vessel may not heal properly
    4. parasites – such as worms, which may inhabit and block a lymphatic vessel
    5. lack of movement – muscular contractions are required to help pump the lymph through the vessels. Lack of movement allows the lymph to pool, particularly in the legs
    6. allergy – allergic reactions may affect the lymphatic system

What are the symptoms of lymphoedema?

  • A feeling of heaviness in the affected area

  • Skin tightness with a feeling that it is close to a bursting point

  • The skin feels warmer to touch

  • Aches

  • Pins and needles sensation

  • Pinching pains

  • Painful joints

  • Swelling

  • Limitation of movement

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