There is currently no cure for lymphedema, therefore a life long commitment to continuing a program of professional care and self care is necessary. The goal of lymphedema therapy is to provide a way to live with a latent stage of lymphedema (no swelling) or with as little swelling as is possible, given the facts of each individuals' lymphedema profile.
Complete Decongestive Therapy is a method to decrease tissue pressure caused by increased lymph fluids which have accumulated and provides a way to maintain the reduction in swelling. Lymphedema causes a vicious pain, spasm, pain cycle which often leads to immobility. CDT promotes a decrease in scar tissue formation and brings an increase in oxygen to the areas of edema, which speeds the healing process . It helps achive the additional goals of prevention and elimination of infection and reduction and removal of fibrotic tissue.
There are four parts to Complete Decongestive Therapy
1. Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
MLD is gentle. It is often no more pressure than the stroke across a baby's head. It is a way to improve lymph flow around the blocked areas and eventually drain lymph into the veinous system (veins and blood vessels). MLD stretches the skin and pumps lymph fluid. It is one of the few pleasant, nurturing , and non-invasive therapies for those in pain. Lymphedema may be reduced by MLD, however the lymphatic system is never again "normal" and skin elasticity is not regained.
2. Compression Therapy
Without the ongoing benefits provided by compression therapy successful treatment of lymphedema is impossible. Compression therapy increases tissue pressure and assists in fluid movement. It is applied between MLD treatments to prevent reacumulation of lymph fluid. In Phase 1 of compression therapy short-stretch bandaging may be applied and if the swelling is severe the bandaging may continue into Phase 2 (self care). Self care includes over the counter or custom made compression garments, which need to be worn every day to provide support for tissues which are no longer elastic. Mechanical compression products assist in lymphedema self care. This assistance is especially important when therapeutic care is not available locally.
3. Decongestive Exercises
These exercises are performed while wearing compression garments. Decongestive exercise has great benefits for everyone diagnosed with lymphedema and enhances a feeling of well being while promoting lymphatic drainage. Exercises may be performed during therapy in Phase 1 and/or taught as part of self care in Phase 2. Families and care givers are encouraged to attend the therapy sessions and learn about assisting in decongestive exercises.
4. Skin Care
Infections are a very common and serious complication of lymphedema therefore, meticulous skin and nail care is taught. Good skin and nail care will save money as you won't snag or tear compression garments if you maintain soft skin and manicured nails. Lymphedema management is about being aware of your skins' changed lymph system response.