Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling in a body part due to the accumulation of lymph fluid.  Swelling usually in an arm or leg but can also occur in the face, neck, trunk, pelvis or groin.

The Lymphatic system is an intricate network of vessels that carry lymph fluid from tissues to the blood circulation. Lymph fluid carries excess fluid, bacteria, viruses, and cell waste products through the vessels to the lymph nodes that filter out what is not necessary.  Then the remaining fluid is returned to the blood system.

Lymphedema occurs when this system is not working properly.  Lymphedema can develop due to surgery or radiation of the lymph nodes of the neck, underarm, abdomen, pelvis or groin.  It may also be caused by trauma, chronic infection or chronic swelling of the feet or legs.

Lymphedema is characterized by persistent swelling, often beginning in the hands or feet.  One arm or leg may feel “heavier” than the other.  One may notice a feeling of tightness in the skin or that clothing or jewelry is unusually tight.


Lymphedema is not curable but with proper instructions can be managed effectively.  The key is prompt identification and treatment.

Lymphedema management takes less time, energy and money if treated in the early stages. Lymphedema can be managed through Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).  Therapy is designed to reduce swelling and then focuses on home maintenance.

Therapy includes:
  1. Meticulous Skin Care.  Patients are taught good skin hygiene to help reduce the chance of infection
  2. Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MDL), a specialized manual treatment that facilitates the movement of lymph fluid.
  3. Compression Bandaging.  Short-stretch compression bandages are used to increase the tissue pressure, which aids in the movement of lymph fluid.  Bandages are worn day and night.
  4. Exercise helps improve lymph circulation and is done with the bandages or compression garment on.  Breathing exercises also increase the amount of fluid that is moved.

When the swelling is reduced the therapy focuses on home maintenance.
If Lymphedema signs and symptoms are present, seek medical advice.  NRMC Wound & Skin Care Clinic can evaluate and treat for Lymphedema.   A licensed therapist certified in the Complete Decongestive Therapy will establish the treatment program.

NRMC provides a wide variety of comprehensive health care services including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

For further information about Lymphedema Therapy and other services please contact Nevada Regional Hospital at 417-667-3355 or you can contact the Wound and Skin Care Clinic at 417-448-2121.