VIDEO: Introduction to Lymphedema

Clinical Expertise

May 18, 2021

Medical Reviewer: Carolyn Tremblay, PT, DPT, CLT
Last Updated: April 28, 2022

Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Carolyn and I’m a certified lymphedema therapist and physical therapist with Brooks Rehabilitation in Florida.

I’d like to talk a little bit about what lymphedema is. When people get the diagnosis it’s not often clearly explained to them. Lymphedema happens when the lymphatic system is no longer able to operate at capacity. I like to compare it to a parking garage. Once that parking garage is completely full you have no more room. And while the lymphatic system is an open-ended system, which means that the ends of the tubules that help to collect fluid are open to suction up fluid, protein molecules and other dead cells in the body, it can only operate to a certain capacity, much like a parking garage has openings for the cars to come in.

Well, when that fluid accumulates and has nowhere to go that’s when lymphedema occurs, the limb will start to swell. It’ll typically happen in limbs like arms or legs. It could happen in the abdomen, it could happen in the area surrounding the armpit or the back, the neck, the mouth and face, really anywhere in the body where the fluid can accumulate and it can start to create a big pouch of fluid. This fluid is full of protein, which means that if it starts to weep out through the skin you’re going to get a sticky yellow substance, typically clear. It’s not infectious but it’s very inconvenient to deal with.

Lymphedema occurs because of a variety of reasons. One could be a surgery where lymph nodes are removed or just a surgery that affects some of the collectors, and the body has a hard time processing fluid afterwards. It could also happen because of trauma, such as a crushed a limb or a car accident. It could happen because of radiation treatment or sometimes we have a low capacity lymphatic system and one illness or injury is enough to overwhelm the system and create that type of swelling.

Lymphedema is best treated with a method known as complete decongestive therapy and that is something I will talk about, the components of complete decongestive therapy in future videos.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about lymphedema or are seeking lymphedema treatment, please contact your local Brooks Rehabilitation Center and we’ll connect you with a lymphedema therapist who can either do a tele-health or in-person evaluation and education session to get you.

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Medical Reviewer

Carolyn Tremblay, PT, DPT, CLT

Certified Lymphedema Therapist, Center Manager - Osceola Outpatient Clinic
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