Blog Post: July 12th, 2021

By Beth Meyer, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Lymphedema Therapist

My interest in becoming a physical therapist started in high school after having physical therapy myself for plantar fasciitis and shoulder surgery. I also enjoyed anatomy and science classes. Then my interest in lymphedema came a little while down the road while in Physical Therapy school at Des Moines University. I was completing a clinical rotation with Jamie Rabe, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Lymphedema Therapist with 21st Century Rehab in Boone, IA. With the education I received, I felt this specialty to be very rewarding and have since felt patients were thankful to have someone to help them improve in an area that many other healthcare professionals do not address. So, what is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling in an area such as the arm or leg by failure of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system spans throughout your entire body and is in charge of pulling in excess fluid and transporting it into the circulatory system. The circulatory system is made up of your arteries, capillaries, veins, and the heart. The heart is what pumps the fluid throughout the system making it a closed loop system. 

However, the lymphatic system is an open system, meaning it does not have something such as the heart to keep the fluid moving. A lymph vessel starting at your toe, for example, has to work uphill against gravity to get to your heart in order to be processed. In a healthy system, this would occur with pressure changes in the body, pulsation of the vessels around the lymph system, and muscles working. With a compromised system, though, additional help is required. 

This comes through things such as compression socks to help reduce the amount of fluid that accumulates in the area, elevation to switch that uphill climb to a downhill slide, and performance of self manual lymphatic drainage to assist your lymph system to move the fluid along. 

There are many reasons as to why lymphedema can occur. Primary lymphedema is when your lymphatic system does not develop correctly. Secondary lymphedema can occur after lymph nodes have been removed. This can occur with breast cancer, after an injury that destroys the lymph system, surgeries creating scar tissue, chronic venous insufficiency, congestive heart family, filariasis, obesity, nutrition, and/or self induced, among other causes.

If you have lymphedema/chronic swelling, don’t wait to address it. The issues you are having with lymphedema will be best improved with a visit to a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT). Your CLT will thoroughly go through your medical history, discuss the cause of your edema/swelling, and discuss techniques to reduce your edema with use of bandages, compression stockings, manual lymphatic drainage techniques, exercise, and provide education on self MLD, proper skin care and hydration. Because lymphedema is chronic, it will need to be maintained. Your CLT will help you to stay up on proper management techniques and help to fit you for a proper garment. We understand that there are times of flare ups, and in this case, a return back to your CLT is needed to get you back on track.

If you know you have lymphedema or think you may be experiencing lymphedema, don’t wait to contact us. At 21st Century Rehab, we have Certified Lymphedema Therapists at each location, and we are equipped to help you address your swelling issues. Please visit our locations page to call and schedule at the clinic of your choosing. Alternatively, you can request an appointment by clicking here and filling out the form.