Lymphedema Management


Lymphedema is a build up of protein rich fluid that causes swelling/edema in the body and is most likely to affect the arm on the operated side following breast surgery especially if lymph nodes were removed. It is important to note that some women will stay in the “latency phase” of lymphedema a long time before developing any lymphedema on the affected side. Lymphedema can develop over time and cause swelling in most cases. It is not curable but it is manageable. If there is fatigue, heaviness, aching, swelling on the affected side further treatment by a lymphedema therapist is advised. This includes manual lymphatic drainage, bandaging, and compression garments.

How Does Lymphedema Develop?

Lymphedema occurs when the lymph vessels are unable to transport lymph fluid back into circulation it accumulates in a limb, hands, or feet, or other areas of the body resulting in chronic swelling.

Once this condition occurs, the swelling may increase if an effective treatment program is not initiated.

There are 2 types of Lymphedema:

Primary Lymphedema

Caused by malformations of the lymphatic system. These malformations are most common in women. Symptoms may be present at birth or may develop later, often during puberty or pregnancy. Primary lymphedema is most common in the legs, but may also, occur in the arms and torso.

Secondary Lymphedema

Is a result of damage to the lymphatic system. Surgical procedures such as a mastectomies, lumpectomies with radiation and/or removal of lymph nodes are most common causes. Secondary lymphedema occurs most commonly in the arms but may also develop in the legs. Other causes may include a traumatic injury, infection, or severe chronic venous insufficiency. 


May develop within a few months after a procedure, years later, or not at all. Signs and symptoms may include; swelling, tightness or heaviness in the affected area or changes in the texture of the skin. You may notice that clothing or jewellery feel tighter


  • Slow, progressive swelling
  • Pitting of the skin 
  • Feeling of heaviness or tightness in the limb
  • Discomfort, restricted motion, and swelling in part of or the whole of the limb
  • May also present with a positive Stemmer sign