Rehabilitation Institute

Home > Specialties > Rehabilitation Institute > Lymphedema


Lymphedema is a condition of localized fluid retention caused by a compromised lymphatic system. The lymphatic system collects and filters the fluid of the body. The danger with lymphedema comes from the constant risk of developing an uncontrolled infection in the affected limb.

Lymphedema may be inherited (primary) or caused by injury to the lymphatic vessels (secondary). It is most frequently seen after lymph node dissection, surgery and/or radiation therapy. It may not develop until months or years after therapy. Symptoms may include severe fatigue, a heavy swollen limb or localized fluid accumulation in other body areas and discoloration of the skin.

Regions Hospital - Rehabilitation Institute - Lymphedema

Lymphedema in women

  • Occurs in upper limbs after breast cancer surgery and lymph node dissection
  • Occurs in the arm on the side of the body in which the surgery is performed
  • May occur in lower limbs or groin after colon, ovarian or uterine cancer surgery

Lymphedema in men

  • Lower-limb primary lymphedema is most common, occurring in one or both legs
  • Surgery/treatment for prostate, colon and testicular cancers may result in secondary lymphedema

Your first visit

  • A certified lymphedema therapist will conduct the evaluation.
  • It will consist of discussing your prior activity level, goals and limitations.
  • The therapist will assess your edema, evaluate for swelling, measure your motion and strength and assess scar problems.
  • Treatment will vary and may include:
    • Lymphedema education and prevention strategies
    • Manual lymph drainage massage
    • Lymphatic stimulation exercises
    • Bandaging or compression garments
    • Home exercise program instruction
    • Stretching exercises
    • Education in how to independently manage edema
    • Formulating a plan to assist in achieving your goals