New Lymphedema Program at New York Methodist Hospital

Nov 13, 2009

New York Methodist Hospital, in cooperation with its affiliate Metro SportsMed, now offers a special physical therapy program for the treatment of lymphedema, swelling caused by fluid build-up that generally occurs in the arms or legs.

Lymphedema is caused as a result of two few lymph nodes for adequate removal of lymph fluid in the limbs. This prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and as the fluid builds up, swelling occurs. The condition is commonly a side effect of breast cancer related surgery, which may include the removal of one or more lymph nodes. Symptoms include swelling, restricted range of motion in the arms or legs, pain, recurring infections in the affected area, and heaviness or tightness in the arms or legs.

Too often patients are not aware of treatment options for lymphedema after surgery, said Kristi Latham, PT, CLT, director of NYM's Women's Physical Therapy Program. Because of a lack of information, patients often suffer in silence.

The most common form of treatment includes manual massage techniques involving special hand strokes on the affected limb that gently move lymph fluid to healthy lymph nodes, where it can drain. Short-stretch bandages wrapped around the limb to encourage lymph fluid to flow out of the affected area and toward the trunk of the body may also be used to treat lymphedema. In addition, studies have shown that certain forms of exercise may be beneficial.

Part of our treatment involves teaching patients to perform some of the massage techniques themselves, said Ms. Latham. Good skin care practices are also very important. Ms. Latham, a recent addition to the Hospitals staff, began her career in skilled nursing where she developed programs for continence improvement, lymphedema, and venous insufficiency. The Hospitals program includes treatment for venous insufficiency, a condition in which the veins have trouble sending blood from the legs back to the heart, as well as lymphedema.

For more information about NYM's treatment for lymphedema, call 718 369-8051.