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Physical Therapy for Lymphedema

All lymphedema therapists at Virginia Hospital Center are fully certified as recognized by the National Lymphedema Network and are all LANA certified or eligible. Our therapists are extremely experienced and are qualified to treat all types of lymphedema.

If you or your family member is suffering from lymphedema, please discuss with your physician if Physical Therapy is an option for you.

To talk with a certified lymphedema therapist call: 703.558.6507

Please note that your physician's written order is required to use our services. Additionally, an authorization or referral from your insurance company may be necessary.

About Lymphedema

Lymphedema is the abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid in the tissue that causes persistent and progressive swelling. Lymphedema can occur anywhere in the body including an arm, leg, head or neck, breast, abdomen, or genitals.

Who is at risk?

Primary: Primary lymphedema occurs because of a developmental defect in the structure or function of the lymphatic system. Those at risk have poorly developed or malformed lymphatic vessels, sometimes with a family history.

Secondary: Secondary lymphedema can affect people of all ages who have had breast, gynecological, prostate, melanoma or head and neck cancer treatment which includes lymph node removal and/ or radiation therapy. Non-cancer related causes include infections, trauma and other surgeries. Lymphedema can develop weeks, months or years after surgery.

Lymphedema Management

Lymphedema is a progressive condition with no cure, but it can be treated.

The standard treatment for lymphedema is a customized program of Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) performed by a specially trained therapist who meets the criteria of the National Lymphedema Network and the Lymphology Association of North American standards.

Complete Decongestive Therapy Consists of Goals of Treatment
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage
  • Education in prophylactic methods
  • Specialized compression bandages
  • Fitting for compression garment
  • Patient specific exercises
  • Skin care Ongoing self care
  • Decongest the swollen area
  • Reduce fibrotic tissue
  • Avoid the re-accumulation of lymph fluid
  • Prevent and eliminate infections
  • Maintain normal or near normal size of limbs

Lymphedema Risk Reduction Practices


Avoid Trauma and injury to reduce infection risk:
  • Keep extremity clean and dry
  • Apply daily moisturizer to prevent chapping/ chaffing of skin
  • Attention to nail care; do not cut cuticles
  • Protect exposed skin with sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Use care with razors to avoid nicks and skin irritation
  • If possible, avoid punctures such as injections and blood draws
  • Wear gloves while doing activities that may cause skin injury (washing dishes, gardening, working with tools, using chemicals such as detergent)
  • If scratches/ puncture to skin occur, wash with soap and water, apply antibiotics, and observe for signs of infections (redness, warmth, pain)
  • If a rash, itching, redness, pain, increased skin temperature, fever or flu-like symptoms occur, contact your physician immediately for possible infection 


  • If possible, avoid having blood pressure taken on the at-risk extremity
  • Wear loose fitting jewelry and clothing


  • Should be well fitting -Support the at-risk limb with a compression garment for strenuous activity
  • Consider wearing a well-fitting compression garment for air travel
  • All compression garments should be fit by certified lymphedema therapist


  • Avoid exposure to extreme cold
  • Avoid prolonged (greater then 15 minutes) exposure to heat; particularly hot tubs and saunas
  • Avoid placing limb in water temperatures above 102degrees Fahrenheit 

Lymphedema and Exercise

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can be performed safely for persons with lymphedema and those who are risk.
Persons with lymphedema can safely perform exercises using their affected body part(s) when
  • Compression garments are properly worn
  • The affected body part is not exercised to fatigue
  • Appropriate modifications are adopted to prevent trauma 
Persons who are at risk for developing lymphedema can safely perform exercises when exercises are initiated at a low intensity and increased gradually.
There is no evidence that wearing a garment during exercise is necessary for individuals at risk for lymphedema; however it might be beneficial. 
Before starting any exercise program, you should be medically cleared.
Performing exercise beyond and individuals usual duration or intensity may trigger or worsen lymphedema.
Exercise should be started gradually, increased cautiously and stopped for pain, increased swelling or discomfort. Frequent rest breaks should be taken during activity to allow for limb recovery.
It is recommended to discuss any exercise program with your therapist prior to starting.


For More Information on Lymphedema

National Lymphedema Network
Lymphology Association of North America

Contact Info & Hours
  • If you or your family member has suffered an injury or illness that interferes with the ability to move freely and safely, Physical, Speech & Occupational Therapy at Virginia Hospital Center may help. To schedule an appointment, please call us at 703.558.6507.
  • Please note that your physician's written order is required to use our services, and an additional authorization (referral) from your insurance company may be needed. Department hours are Monday through Friday from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm (6:00 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays).

1701 N. George Mason Drive | Arlington, VA 22205-3698 | tel 703.558.5000
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