Lymphedema & Lipedema Care

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a type of swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system has been compromised. Lymph fluid cannot flow properly and a backup occurs. Lymphedema usually is seen in the limbs but can occur anywhere in the body.

What is Lipedema?

Lipedema is a chronic condition seen in women that develop a  symmetric buildup of adipose tissue (fat) in the legs (and sometimes arms). It is characterized by painful fatty deposits that are lumpy and bruise easily,  The condition is  often associated with obesity and lymphedema.  This is a condition that is often overlooked in the medical and general community leaving people frustrated and in emotional and psychological distress.  There are management strategies that physiotherapy can help with to assist this condition that are similar (but not exactly the same) to that done for lymphedema.

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is responsible for helping to move lymph fluid to lymph nodes where it is broken down and then transported for elimination. Lymph fluid contains waste products, large proteins and fatty acids, bacteria and dead cells. When swelling occurs, areas of the lymphatic system can get congested.

How is lymphedema managed?

Lymphedema is managed with a combination of treatments known as Combined Decongestive Therapy  (CDT).


Combined Decongestive Therapy includes:

  • Manual lymphatic drainage massage (mld)
  • Compression wrapping and/or compression garments
  • Exercise prescription
  • Education on self-management, skin care, and flare-up prevention

What is manual lymphatic drainage?

Manual lymphatic drainage (mld) is a type of gentle massage that helps move fluid from a congested, swollen area to drainage areas in the lymphatic system. This technique is useful for reducing swelling but also has many other benefits such as reducing pain, improving relaxation and enhancing immune system function.

Many different conditions and issues can be improved using manual lymph drainage.  Some of these include:

  • swelling from sprains and strains
  • pre-operative care (to help stimulate the system)
  • post-operative care for orthopedic issues (e.g., carpal tunnel release, knee replacement, rotator cuff repair)
  • post-operative care for cosmetic surgeries (e.g., breast reductions, tummy tuck, facelift)
  • post-mastectomy care or post-cancer surgery
  • lymphedema Swelling that contains lymph fluid. Often a limb is affected but other areas of the body can also be affected

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