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The lymphatic system is important for keeping you healthy by collecting waste and flushing it out with fluid. But sometimes, that fluid fails to drain, causing swelling, discomfort or restricted movement. Though it cannot be cured, once it's diagnosed, Tri-County Health Care's physical therapists can help you find relief.

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system fails to develop normally before birth or has been damaged later in life. Once the disorder develops, it cannot be cured; however, it can be managed by appropriate ongoing treatment such as physical therapy.

An estimated 3 million Americans are affected by lymphedema.

Lymphedema is:

  • An abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the surface tissues of the body.
  • A progressive condition that can have serious consequences if left untreated.
  • Incurable but highly treatable and often preventable.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) may not be appropriate for:

  • Acute infection
  • Acute deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Acute congestive heart failure
  • Acute bronchitis
  • Cardiac edema
  • Malignant lymphedema

Two Categories of Lymphedema

Primary: Caused by malformation of the lymphatic system. This is relatively rare.

Secondary: Resulting from an interrupted/blocked/damaged lymphatic system, caused by:

  • Surgery
  • Lymph node dissection
  • Irradiation/chemotherapy
  • Trauma
  • Infection of lymphatic vessels
  • Immobility
  • Tumor recurrence
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic venous insufficiency

Acute vs. Chronic Lymphedema


  • Fleeting, mild
  • Occurs shortly after a surgery
  • Usually responds quickly to treatment


  • More challenging to treat
  • Early treatment yields a better outcome

Toll-Free: 800-631-1811
Phone: 218-631-3510