One of the questions we often get asked is about lymphedema treatments. There are two options in our studio: Complete Decongestive Therapy and Manual Lymphatic Drainage.
Option 1: Complete Decongestive Therapy as Lymphedema Treatment
Complete Decongestive Therapy is an intensive process, requiring frequent in-office appointments, daily compression, skincare, and Manual Lymphatic Drainage. CDT is considered the Gold Standard of lymphedema care. The goal is to decrease the swelling to a manageable size. At each visit, we focus on intensive care to reduce swelling further and then use compression to maintain progress between visits. CDT involves office visit 3-5 times a week for several weeks with four distinct components at each visit.
Four distinct components of each visit:
- Skin Care: We start each appointment with skincare. Individuals with lymphedema are at increased risk of skin infections and other complications. We check for any areas of concern. Lymphedema puts strain on the skin from the inside out. Hydrated skin is able to adapt better to the pressure without becoming compromised. It’s also important to wear proactive clothing and avoid injuries. Once skin is compromised, infection is more likely. CDT and MLD stop entirely when there is an active infection.
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): After ensuring the skin is ready, we perform MLD. This is a specialized massage technique that aims to improve the circulation of lymphatic fluid and reduce swelling.
- Compression Therapy: Since the lypmhatic system is compromised, swelling can reaccumulate quickly. Compression helps to prevent this reaccumulation. Preventing reaccumulation is key so that at the next appointment, we can work to further reduce swelling. Since swelling can change dramatically using CDT, we don’t recommend wearing compression garments. We recommend compression bandages, which can easily be adjusted at every application.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help to improve lymphatic function and promote overall health. Individuals with lymphedema may work with a therapist to develop an exercise plan that is safe and effective for their individual needs and circumstances. Based on your individual ability, we will adjust your exercise plan to be easily doable for you. Examples include walking for 10-15 minutes and foot pumping while elevating legs.
What Happens after Successfully Completing CDT?
After successfully completing CDT, care can become less rigorous. Instead of multiple office visits per week, frequency goes down to once a week and then tapering off to as needed. For some individuals, they benefit in continuing just MLD office visits monthly while others need six months follow-ups.
After your Initial Session, you will need to get a list of supplies to start CDT.
Option 2: Manual Lymphatic Drainage as Lymphedema Treatment
Manual Lymphatic Drainage is the hands-on technique to stimulate the lymphatic system. Our Certified Lymphedema Therapist uses specific strokes to stimulate the lymphatic vessels and promote the flow of lymphatic fluid towards the lymph nodes. MLD can help to reduce swelling and discomfort, improve the immune system, and support overall well-being. While MLD is not a cure for lymphedema, it can be a valuable part of a comprehensive lymphedema management program. For individuals whose lymphedema is more manageable, they may be able to just do MLD and compression garments.
Skincare and exercise are still important but can be self-managed.
Choosing Your Lymphedema Therapist:
It is important to note that MLD should only be performed by a trained therapist with expertise in lymphedema care. While MLD is generally safe, MLD for lymphedema needs to be modified. These modifications are only taught in advanced training.
MLD is not recommended for individuals with active infections, blood clots, or certain medical conditions.
Bailey B. R. Maddox is our Certified Lymphedema Therapist. Bailey performs all lymphedema care and oversees all Manual Lymphatic Drainage.
Not in the Columbia, SC Area?
Not a problem! There are resources out there to find a qualified CLT in your area. One way is to use the Lymphedema Therapy Directory that CLTs and lymphedema clinics can pay to be listed on this directory.