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Many of us are familiar with swelling, perhaps from wearing tight shoes or sitting too long.  Following surgery, some people experience persistent swelling which is called lymphedema. The accumulation of fluid, usually in the arms or legs, can be painful and debilitating.

Up to 30% of mastectomy patients may develop lymphedema. Once triggered, this condition can only be controlled, not cured. Some breast cancer patients have used compression pumps with poor results due to the lymph nodes being surgically removed. Denmark's Dr. Vodder developed a technique and certification program called Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD).

Susan Holmes, Physical Therapist Assistant at the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults, recently achieved the MLD certification. She was motivated by a friend with cancer whose leg was swollen twice the normal size. Holmes shares, "Everything I used failed to help her until we tried Dr. Vodder's techniques." Rather than deep kneading massage, this system uses gentle, light touch to the skin stimulating lymph flow. Short-stretch bandages, rather than long bandages, are used to prevent re-accumulation of fluid. Patients receive the maximum benefit from therapeutic exercise when performed while wearing compression garments. To avoid infection, patients should practice meticulous skin care including the use of low pH skin lotion. The combination of these techniques is called Complete Decongestive Therapy. Initial therapy is intensive and the patient is responsible for learning a home program developed with the therapist. The daily routines are time consuming and require a lifetime commitment.

Harriet Reed tried Manual Lymph Drainage after her second knee replacement. Her physician, Dr. Michael Cooney, said that because of "the lymphedema compression dressings...she has certainly made dramatic progress."

Barbara Ferrin used the therapy to reduce lymphedema following knee surgery. She said, "The results were immediate with less swelling and better movement. This means I can get back on the golf course sooner!"

The on-line address is www. for more information. Visitors are welcome anytime at the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults. To tour or learn more about the services, call 655-7266.

June 2001

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