Did you know that March is Lymphedema Awareness Month? Lymphedema is a lifelong condition that is not curable, but can be maintained. In fact, Parkland Therapy Services has two certified lymphedema therapists who treat patients regularly to help them learn to manage their condition. Mae Kunz, OTD, OTR/L, CLT, certified since 2009 and Lauren Vargo, OT, MOTR/L, CLT, certified since October 2019 recently helped shed some light on this condition and what they do to help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, lymphedema is swelling due to build-up of lymph fluid in the body. Lymph nodes act like a drain in your sink. If the drain is clogged, the fluid cannot drain. It usually happens in the arms or legs, but can occur in other parts of the body. Lymph fluid is part of the lymph system that carries fluid and cells that help fight infections throughout the body. Sometimes this swelling develops quickly, or it may develop slowly over several months.
The CDC also cautions that having lymphedema can lead to additional health issues such as an increased risk of infection and slower healing of wounds in the affected area. In addition, the joints in the affected part of the body may feel stiff or sore.
So, how is this condition treated? Mae and Lauren explained a few techniques they implement at Parkland Therapy Services:
- Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) – a manual skin stretch technique that assists in lymph flow. This is a short-term treatment to obtain a controlled size of the limb, then, to prevent “refill,” the patient transitions to compression garments.
- Compression bandaging – a layered wrap applied to the congested limb to enhance a patient’s natural muscular lymph pump, to assist with getting the fluid out.
- The patient can eventually be released to care for the condition at home, and this can include 1) a Sequential Compression Pump, which is a comfortable pump specifically designed for patients with lymphedema and/or chronic edema, 2) self-MLD, 3) compression bandages (worn constantly as tolerated) or 4) garments such as compression socks or sleeves which are worn at all times except while sleeping at night.
Parkland Therapy Services offers occupational, physical and lymphedema therapy and speech-language pathology, both inpatient and outpatient. The outpatient clinic is located at 1280 Doctors Drive in Farmington, and treats patients of all ages -- infants through geriatric.