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northwestern-medicine-lymphedema

The Causes of Lymphedema

Lymphedema may be a result of:

  • Congenital/hereditary factors
  • Surgery
  • Trauma, such as a broken bone, a break in the skin from a cut or wound, or from an infection
  • Radiation
  • Biopsy (lymph node removal) associated with certain cancers
  • Orthopaedic injury or surgery
  • Work-related injury
  • Car accident
  • Stroke
  • Chronic lymph system infection
  • Long-term vein problem
  • Obesity
  • Lipedema

The Symptoms of Lymphedema

You may be at risk for developing lymphedema after certain cancer treatments. These lymphedema symptoms may occur right after treatment, or months or years after treatment. Talk to your physician and ask for a referral for lymphedema therapy if you experience any of these symptoms or changes in an affected body part:

  • Discomfort, heaviness or achiness
  • Increase in size or changing shape
  • Increased warmth
  • Difficulty fitting into clothing or shoes
  • Red patches on your skin
  • Puffiness or fullness

These changes can occur quickly or slowly over time.


Our Treatment Approach

Treatments for lymphedema may include:

  • Pre- and post-operative assessment and education for specified cancer diagnoses
  • Complete decongestive therapy
  • Compression garment recommendations, fitting and training
  • Kinesio Tape to relieve pain and reduce swelling
  • Customized exercise plans
  • Skin care and education
  • Pneumatic sequential pumps
  • Manual lymphatic drainage
  • Compression bandaging
  • Soft tissue and scar mobilization
  • Self-care education

Physical and occupational therapy for lymphedema can help:

  • Reduce swelling to normal or near-normal size
  • Help wounds heal and lower your risk of skin infections
  • Soften skin and improve skin health
  • Improve functioning of the affected limb/body parts
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Help you regain maximum function for everyday tasks

Cancer and Lymphedema

Lymphedema can be caused by cancer surgery or radiation treatment effects on the lymphatic system. It can cause tissue swelling, skin changes, a higher risk for long-term infections and slower tissue healing. Physical and occupational therapy is an key part of the Northwestern Medicine multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment. Our therapists have specialized training in post-surgical and post-treatment techniques to improve function, motion, scar tissue tightness, lymphedema and balance.

Through the use of highly personalized treatment sessions, our therapists can help with:
  • Preventing and/or reducing cancer-related fatigue and pain
  • Increasing muscle mass, strength and endurance
  • Restoring balance
  • Improving functionality in doing everyday activities
  • Help managing some common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation
  • Managing weight and volume increase due to lymphedema
  • Regaining shoulder range of motion after breast cancer surgery
  • Improve your quality of life and physical fitness

Our cancer therapists are certified lymphedema therapists. They offer complete decongestive therapy, a non-invasive and painless therapy that includes:

  • Applying compression bandages, or other forms of compression, to prevent the fluid from re-accumulating between treatment sessions
  • Exercise with bandaging to increase tissue pressure and lymph fluid movement
  • Manual lymph drainage to reroute lymph fluid around blocked areas
  • Skin care to lower risk of infections and improve skin health
  • Help with products, such as compression garments and/or a compression pump, that you may need after therapy

  • You must have a prescription for therapy. To schedule an appointment, please call 630.933.1500

    Locations & Contact Information
      northwestern-medicine-SOZO

      SOZO Digital Health Platform

      The SOZO® Digital Health Platform is a device that measures fluid in your body. It can help determine if you are at risk for developing lymphedema. It provides immediate results, allowing for early detection, monitoring and education.

      We offer the SOZO at our locations in Grayslake and Lake Forest

      You must have a prescription for therapy. To learn more, call 630.933.1500