Back to Health
Lymphedema Drainage

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid in soft tissue due to a low volume (mechanical) insufficiency of the lymphatic system.

Lymphedema can present in the extremities, face, trunk, abdomen and inner organs. Once present, it is a chronic and progressive condition.

Primary Lymphedema

Congenital malformations of the lymphatic system which may be present at birth or develop later on in life.

Secondary Lymphedema (more common)                                                                  

  1. A result of damage to the lymphatic system.
  2. Often the result of surgery or radiation therapy for cancer, resection of lymph nodes or chronic venous insufficiency.
Complete Decongestive Therapy

Since there is no cure for lymphedema, the goal of CDI is to reduce the swelling and maintain the reduction through non-invasive, painless therapy consisting of these four steps:

  1. Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) A gentle, manual technique which reroutes the lymph flow around the blocked areas and back into the circulatory system.
  2. Compression Therapy Utilizes short-stretch bandages and compression garments to prevent the re-accumulation of fluid, improve the function of the muscle pumps, reduce fibrotic tissue, and promote venous and lymphatic return.
  3. Exercise A customized exercise program should be performed while the patient wears the bandages or compression garments to aid in the effect of the joint and muscle pumps.
  4. Meticulous Skin and Nail Care The skin is very susceptible to infections and is usually dry, so please consult your physician if any infections or fungus are present prior to consultation. 
There are other treatment methods available (diuretics, compression pumps, surgery) but none have been proven to be as effective as CDT.


Typical courses of treatment include 4-5 weekly visits, with sessions lasting approximately one hour. This time will be spent implementing MLD, bandaging the involved extremity or extremities, completing an individualized exercise program, and education related to self-wrapping, MLD, and skin care.

Near the end of treatment, the patient will be fitted for a compression garment, to be worn independently and indefinitely.

Prior to discharge, all patients will demonstrate independence in self-care including MLD, wrapping, exercise and skin care.

Utilization of other components of our state-of-the-art physical therapy clinic may also prove appropriate and valuable to the patient.

Please be aware that you will need a prescription from your doctor to receive CDT.

If you have any questions or think you may have Lymphedema, please call us at 340-8585 to receive an informational booklet or to speak with our therapist.