Treatment

With early detection, diagnosis and the right treatment you can manage lymphedema and prevent it from getting worse. Early treatment leads to the best health outcomes.

Lymphedema Diagnosis

If you think you have early signs of lymphedema, the first step is to visit your family doctor, healthcare team or a certified lymphedema therapist. Sadly, some people who suspect they may have lymphedema are told that nothing can be done to help them. That’s just plain wrong.  This is one of the main reasons the Lymphedema Association of Ontario exists to help you. We can connect you with information, resources, support groups and certified lymphedema therapists.

Lymphedema Assessment

Getting lymphedema diagnosed and assessed can lead to effective therapy and the advice you need to manage your lymphedema.

The gold standard of lymphedema management includesCombined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) given by a certified lymphedema therapist. We can help you find a certified lymphedema therapist. They may be a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, nurse, doctor or registered massage therapist. To be certified as a lymphedema therapist they must have at least 135 hours of post-graduate training to treat lymphedema.

The therapist will assess your lymphedema and then decide on your treatment program.

Lymphedema Therapy includes:

  • Manual Lymph Drainage: a special form of massage that re-directs lymph flow.

  • Compression therapy: the use of compression garments (e.g. elastic bandaging, sleeves, gauntlets or tights) to control swelling.

  • Education: to learn about how best to manage lymphedema.

  • Exercises: to promote lymphatic flow.

  • Skin care: to prevent infection.

  • The goal of therapy is to reduce swelling, manage the lymphedema and reduce your risk of it getting worse and leading to other health problems. Your certified lymphedema therapist will guide you through the treatment program and show you how to control your lymphedema with self care.

    Read more about help for the costs of lymphedema treatment .

Lymphedema is for life. Just as people with diabetes or a heart condition must learn to manage and live with it, ongoing self-care for lymphedema is vital. It takes time and knowledge, and is something you have to commit to for life. This will help you to better manage your lymphedema and reduce your risk of complications. 


Other Treatment Options

Pneumatic compression

Pneumatic compression pump to treat lymphedema of the arm or leg: The affected limb is put into an inflatable sleeve with many sections and remains in the device for one to two hours under the direction of a Lymph specialist. The pump compresses each section in turn, usually moving from the hand or foot to the trunk of the body. Trained staff set the correct level of pressure to reduce swelling and monitor the device. Compression bandaging or a garment must also be used after the pump to help control the swelling.


Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy is used by some therapists as part of the treatment plan for lymphedema, especially when there’s a significant amount of thick, hard scar tissue under the skin (known as fibrosis). However, more evidence from research studies is needed to make definite recommendations about the best use of laser therapy.


Kinesio Taping

Some lymphedema therapists may use Kinesio taping applications in combination with compression bandaging to try and accelerate edema reduction time. Its effectiveness hasn’t been widely studied and patients are cautioned to seek trained therapists who have been taught the proper techniques and can help determine whether Kinesio taping is right for them.


Surgery

Lymphedema surgery is not standard treatment yet and is not readily available in Canada. It is used to treat severe swelling that has not responded to lymphatic drainage or compression therapy. After surgery, the treatment plan must include decongestive lymphatic therapy. The person will also need to wear compression bandaging or garments at all times, for the rest of their life.


Medication

There is no medication to treat or cure lymphedema at this time and research on natural supplements is limited. If you’re considering a new supplement, check with a health professional first for advice.


Lymphedema is not the same as water retention. It is treated differently and diuretics are not recommended. However, if you take diuretics for another condition (e.g. high blood pressure or heart disease), keep taking them and speak to a health professional about your options.


Frequently Asked Questions

Children and Lymphedema by Jacquelyne Todd.

Edema-Causing Medications by Neil Piller.

Managing the Emotional Challenges of Lymphedema by Elizabeth McMahon.

Q&A with 2009 Lymphedema Conference Panel of Experts (Dr. Andrea Cheville, Dr. David Keast, Prof. Christine Moffat, Prof. Roanne Thomas-MacLean and Dr. Anna Towers).

Q&A with 2008 Lymphedema Conference Panel of Experts (Robert Harris and Neil Piller).

Q&A with 2007 Lymphedema Conference Panel of Experts (Saskia Thiadens, Dr. Paula Stewart and Prof. Miles Johnston).








Lymphedema Association of Ontario
Mailing Address: 262-2869 Bloor St. W., Toronto, ON M8X 1B3 Canada
1-877-723-0033 | 416-410-2250 | info@lymphontario.ca

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