Lymphedema refers to swelling in part or all of the arm or leg that results from a blockage in the lymphatic system. This blockage prevents fluid from draining causing an accumulation of fluid in tissues leading to a swelling of an upper or lower extremity. Lymphedema is commonly seen following surgery to remove lymph nodes, radiation treatment for cancer, or damage to lymph node(s) as a result of trauma or infection.
Lymphedema results in a decrease in joint mobility and movement. It also increases the weight of the leg which can cause tightness, restrict range of motion and reduce the ability to perform activities of daily living. Over time, lymphedema can also result in hardness or thickening of the skin and recurring infections and is often accompanied by aching or discomfort.
While there is currently no cure for lymphedema, it can be managed with appropriate care of the affected limb. Compression garments are essential to managing lymphedema. Use of compression decreases swelling by applying pressure to the affected limb to move lymph fluid out of the affected limb and flow back to the upper body.