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Lymphedema Management and Treatment

What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a condition in which swelling (edema) occurs from abnormal accumulation of protein-rich lymph fluid in the space between cells in the body.

Swelling develops in one (or both) of your arms and legs when a blockage occurs in the lymphatic system that prevents fluid from draining well, which results in swelling. Though there is no cure for lymphedema, our UPMC rehabilitation specialists will work with you to treat and manage your lymphedema.

What Causes Lymphedema?

The most common cause of lymphedema is damage to or the removal of lymph nodes due to cancer. In addition to damage or removal, the causes of fluid buildup may include:

  • Certain cancer medications (such as tamoxifen)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Obesity
  • Infection
  • Deficiency in the lymphatic system

What Are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?

Symptoms of lymphedema often include tightness of clothing, rings, or watches and a feeling of fullness around your arms and legs.

Lymphedema Treatment Options

There are various components to the treatment and management of lymphedema. Our highly trained therapists — many of whom are certified by the Lymphology Association of North America — are experts in the treatment of lymphedema, using the complete decongestive therapy method.

What is complete decongestive therapy for lymphedema?

Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) for lymphedema is a comprehensive program that combines the following listed treatments for a holistic approach to treat lymphedema. Two phases of this treatment include an active phase to bring your lymphedema under control followed by a maintenance phase.

Lymphedema management typically includes

  • Manual lymph drainage: Also known as lymphatic massage, manual lymph drainage is a specific, gentle technique that uses precise hand movements to increase fluid circulation throughout your body. Manual lymph drainage for lymphedema reduces swelling and pain often associated with swelling.
  • Compression bandaging: Compression bandaging (or wrapping) is performed by a trained therapist who wraps several layers of short stretch bandages and padding around the affected limb. Bandaging reduces the size of the limb through pressure and promotes an internal pumping action that pushes fluid back into the lymphatic system and out of your tissue.
  • Exercise: Exercise is an important component in the management of lymphedema. Under the supervision of a therapist you will gradually increase exercise for the affected limb. By slowly increasing activity, the affected limb becomes decongested and can handle greater levels of stress.
  • Self-Management: Self-management is the overarching term that describes everything you can do to manage your lymphedema at home. Therapists teach you how to apply bandages or compression wear and specific exercises to reduce the chance of your lymphedema returning to its pre-treatment form.

Read more about the experiences from patients who received lymphedema management services at UPMC Centers for Rehab Services.

Locations for Lymphedema Treatment

Altoona Station Medical Center
1516 9th Ave
Altoona, PA  16602

550 Corporation Street
Beaver, PA 15009

10455 Lincoln Highway
Everett, PA 15537

Butler - North Main
1615 B North Main Street Ext.
Butler, PA 16001
Castle Shannon
3754 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234

Chapel Harbor
CRS-UPMC St. Margaret
Park Place at Chapel Harbor,
Suite 200
300 Chapel Harbor Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15238

Cranberry Township
UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex
8000 Cranberry Springs Drive
Cranberry Township, PA 16066

Salem Place, Suite 100
6530 Route 22
Delmont, PA 15626

152 Zeman Drive
Ebensburg, PA 15931

Erie - West 26th Street
1325 West 26th St.
Erie, PA 16508

Northtowne Square
5600 William Flynn Highway
Gibsonia, PA 15044

26 Conneaut Lake Road
Greenville, PA 16125

Hermitage Crossing
1115 N. Hermitage Road
Hermitage, PA 16148

9365 McKnight Road, Suite 300
Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Corporate One Office Park
Building One, Suite 200
4055 Monroeville Boulevard
Monroeville, PA 15146

Moon Township
1600 Coraopolis Heights Road
Coraopolis, PA 15108

New Castle - Nesbitt Place
26 Nesbitt Road, Suite 153
New Castle, PA 16105
North Strabane
UPMC of Washington Meadowpointe
470 Johnson Road, Suite 110
Washington, PA 15301

412-692-4305 CRS Oakland
Kaufmann Medical Building,
Suite 1201
3471 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

South Hills
412-851-8850 UPMC South Hills, Suite 1400
1300 Oxford Drive
Bethel Park, PA 15102

Squirrel Hill
412-422-4775 2345 Murray Ave., Suite 300
Pittsburgh, PA 15217