By Brittany Rickert, DPT, CLT
March is Lymphedema Awareness Month and we at SMSMPT would like to raise awareness and bring to light the symptoms, treatment and support options related to lymphedema. This debilitating condition is currently estimated to affect 5-10 million Americans, however this number may be higher as it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Lymphedema is a chronic condition that presents as an abnormal excess of fluid, occurring most commonly in the arms or legs. Though less common, swelling can occur throughout the body including the head, neck, and trunk. There are two types, primary and secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema has no known direct cause and may result from inherited issues with the lymph vessels. Secondary lymphedema results from damage to the lymphatic system caused by another condition or treatment. Normally, secondary lymphedema results from surgery related to cancer treatment and/or radiation therapy directed at lymph nodes.
Symptoms of both primary and secondary lymphedema include: swelling of part or all of the arm or leg, including fingers/toes, feelings of heaviness/tightness in the limb, restricted range of motion, recurrent infections of the skin (cellulitis), and hardening/thickening of the skin (fibrosis). Initially, a person may experience something simple such as their shirt sleeve fit tighter on one arm, or feeling of their jewelry cutting into the wrist or fingers. For secondary lymphedema these symptoms may occur days, months, or even years following a surgical procedure or cancer treatment. If you recognize any of the symptoms, please do not ignore them. It is best to seek treatment immediately from a certified lymphedema therapist.
At Smoky Mountain Sports Medicine & Physical Therapy we offer complete decongestive management at two locations with our certified lymphedema therapists, Brittany Rickert and Lauren Carnes. Both individuals received course training and were certified through the Academy of Lymphatic Studies. Treatment at either of our locations will include an initial evaluation, development of customized treatment plan, and follow-up visits which may include a variety of the following: compression bandaging, manual lymphatic drainage, mechanical drainage, decongestive exercise, skin care education, and facilitation of compression garment(s) purchase.
It is with great excitement we report the Lymphedema Treatment Act passed on December 23, 2022. This federal law will go into effect on January 1, 2024. It will improve Medicare insurance coverage for the medically necessary and doctor-prescribed compression supplies that are the gold standard for lymphedema treatment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent swelling in a limb, or if you’ve already been diagnosed with lymphedema and there is a sudden, dramatic increase in size of the involved limb, please seek medical attention from your primary care doctor and request referral to one of our certified lymphedema therapists. We look forward to treating you and improving your quality of life and function.
Brittany Rickert, DPT, CLT Lauren Carnes, DPT, CLT