Preventing & Treating Lymphedema and Venous Insufficiency

Lymphedema is the swelling of a body part, most often an arm or a leg, caused by an abnormal buildup of fluid. It most often causes a feeling of heaviness, some discomfort, cosmetic changes and an increased risk of infection and cellulitis.

Venous Insufficiency refers to insufficient blood flow in the legs due to weakened valves in the veins. Untreated venous insufficiency often leads to lymphedema.

Improving Quality of Life

St.Vincent Physical and Occupational Therapy is committed to using proven therapies to help patients get back to the lives they enjoy. Our state-of-the-art therapeutic programs offer licensed physical and occupational therapists with extensive training and experience in managing these conditions.

Who Is at Risk

Those at risk for lymphedema include individuals who have had: 

  • Post-op breast cancer with or without lymph node removal 
  • Other surgical interventions that may impair the lymphatic system 
  • Radiation therapy to lymph-node bearing areas such as the neck, underarm or pelvic area 
  • A genetic predisposition for lymphedema 
  • Traumatic injury 
  • Burns 
  • Infection

Those at risk for venous insufficiency include individuals with:

  • Cardiac conditions 
  • Hypertension 
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity

“Cancer crept up on me. I had never been sick a day in my life. All of a sudden I had cancer, and on top of that, lymphedema. My physical activity was greatly restricted [because of the swelling], and I felt helpless. Your therapy changed my attitude. You treated me as a whole person. The combination of massage, exercise and dietary changes was imperative to my regaining control of my life.”

– recent St.Vincent patient

Early Intervention Key

The sooner an individual seeks treatment for lymphedema or venous insufficiency, the better the outcome. The emphasis of care is on teaching patients to effectively manage their condition. While lymphedema and venous insufficiency are chronic conditions, those who successfully complete our therapy program achieve optimal results of less swelling and improved quality of life.

There is no single medication or surgery that is effective in curing lymphedema. Traditional treatments include elevation, compression pumps, compression sleeves and complete decongestive therapy. Complete decongestive therapy, a non-invasive approach offered through our rehabilitation therapies, has been shown through research to be the most effective treatment.

“[The therapy] is so simple. I think patients and physicians feel like there should be something highly technical to treat this. Once they realize how straightforward our techniques are and how well they work, they are pleasantly surprised.”

– St.Vincent Therapist

Preventing Lymphedema

The risk for developing lymphedema can be minimized by taking the following precautions:

  • Avoid temperature extremes including hot baths, hot tubs, saunas, hot showers, burns (cooking, smoking, sunburn) and hot climates. Protect the affected limb from the sun, especially if you have received radiation therapy. When in the sun, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen SPF 15 or higher liberally to exposed areas. 
  • Avoid potential sources of infection to the affected limb including insect bites, vaccinations, venous punctures or acupuncture, pet scratches, skin punctures or cuts, venography and lymphography. Manicure nails carefully. 
  • Avoid blunt traumas including lifting heavy objects, blood pressure cuffs on affected arms, tight clothing (such as tight sleeves or bra straps), heavy breast prostheses or constrictive jewelry.

“My therapist was caring and dedicated. She showed me self-management strategies that helped me keep the swelling in my legs down.”

– recent St.Vincent patient


We offer multiple locations with physical therapists specializing in lymphedema care. To find a location near you, call us at (317) 338-LIVE (5483).