Lymphedema Therapy: Available at STAR South County and Creve Coeur
Whether you have been diagnosed with lymphedema or been told you are at risk, we are here for you. We realize that hearing you have a lifelong condition is difficult. We also know you may wonder why the swelling does not just go away.
With our help, though, you can control lymphedema and lead a normal life. We are ready to answer all your questions and ease you into therapy.
What Is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is swelling in the system that moves protein-rich fluid (lymph) from your tissues to your bloodstream. Damage can trap lymph in the tissues, causing your arms, legs, torso, genitals, head or neck to swell. The swollen area may feel heavy, tight or painful.
Men and women both have the same system, so both can develop lymphedema. Women, though, undergo more of the surgeries that can cause it.
Lymphedema can become chronic, meaning it can flare up throughout your life. While it is incurable, we can help you successfully manage it.
Lymphedema has several possible causes. However, it does not affect everyone equally for reasons that remain unknown.
Potential causes include:
- Surgery: Surgery can cause lymphedema, particularly lymph node removal during cancer treatment. (Breast cancer surgery is the most common cause.) Medical providers do not yet have a clear understanding of who will develop lymphedema and when. It may show up a few months after surgery for some and not until several years later for others. (Swelling immediately after surgery is normal and not usually lymphedema.) While risk generally goes up with each additional node taken out, individual outcomes vary.
- Radiation therapy: While radiation therapy can treat cancer and other disease, it can also damage the lymphatic system. Receiving radiation after lymph node removal puts you at particular risk for lymphedema.
- Congenital anomaly: Some people are born with altered lymphatic systems.
- Severe injury and other trauma
Why Choose STAR Physical Therapy for Lymphedema?
With the right lymphedema care, you can meet your daily responsibilities and do the things you love. We regularly help women and men understand the swelling and bring it under control.
We provide the tools needed to successfully manage the condition well beyond your sessions with us. Our program offers:
- Specially trained therapists: STAR team members who will provide your care are certified lymphedema specialists (CLT). That means your therapist completed additional, specialized training in the condition. While some lymphedema therapists only care for the arms or legs, our team members care for both.
- Success with more severe cases: The earlier you start therapy for lymphedema, the faster and easier it is to manage. Even so, we can help even if you have endured prolonged swelling or have particularly hardened or thickened skin.
- Flexibility: We offer the number of sessions you need to control the swelling in your body. People with light swelling may only need a few visits, while those with more severe lymphedema may need to see us over a number of weeks.
- Extensive range of care: Many people visit us after their radiation oncologist notices swelling during treatment. Others come to us through their primary care doctor when they experience a flare-up months or years after initial lymphedema care. You can also come to us for lymphedema prevention if your doctor believes doing so is appropriate.
Learn more about the benefits of choosing STAR sports therapy and physical therapy.
Lymphedema treatment initially helps relieve swelling and thickened skin and then helps you manage the condition. Our treatment includes:
- Bandages: Treating lymphedema often requires special elastic bandages that only stretch so far, keeping pressure on your leg, arm or torso. Some people do not need bandaging, but it plays a key therapy role for many others. Bandaging typically is the first step we take to bring swelling down until we can add other treatments. People who need bandages must initially wear them throughout the day and night, often for several weeks or more.
- Compression garments: Once swelling goes down and you no longer need bandages, we will fit you for a compression garment for your arm or leg. You can choose from many styles and options with guidance from us. The garments are similar to compression stockings or sleeves. You must wear your garment daily, including when treatment with us is finished. Some people have such minor swelling that they can skip bandages and go straight to a compression garment.
- Education: Once we decrease your swelling, we focus on preparing you to manage it on your own. We teach you helpful exercises and massages and how to best take care of your skin. (People with lymphedema face a higher risk of infection from even minor cuts because of the protein-rich fluid trapped near the skin’s surface.)
- Fibrosis massage: Prolonged swelling can cause your skin to thicken. We use a special type of massage to loosen the thickened tissue, almost like the techniques used to break up scar tissue. This massage is different and needed less frequently than manual lymphatic drainage. While it can feel more intense than lymphatic drainage, fibrosis massage is usually very effective. We never go beyond the pressure or discomfort that you can tolerate.
- Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD): We use a very specific type of massage to move the lymph fluid along and decrease swelling. Our therapist stays near the surface of your skin and uses a light touch, rather than going deep into your tissue. We teach you the technique, so you can continue massaging at home once you complete treatment with us.
To learn more about our services or make an appointment, please call a STAR location:
- Chesterfield — Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Orthopedic Center: 314.514.3636
- Creve Coeur — Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital: 314.996.3050
- South County — Center for Advanced Medicine: 314.286.1000