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What is Lymphedema?

  • Lymphedema is a build-up of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues just under your skin. This build-up might cause swelling and discomfort. It often happens in the arms or legs, but can also happen in the face, neck, trunk, abdomen (belly), or genitals.

Why Lymphedema therapy?

  • Lymphedema will continue to worsen if not managed. Therapy can reduce the swelling as much as possible, and then prepare you for maintaining your reduction to prevent the swelling from returning to its current state.

How does Lymphedema therapy work?

  •  The gold standard treatment for Lymphedema is Complete Decongestive Therapy and consists of two phases:

    • Decongestive Phase (also called "Intensive phase") is the first, and the most demanding in time spent with your therapist, as you will need to have more frequent and longer appointments. This phase lasts approximately two weeks. Your therapist will provide manual lymphatic drainage if indicated, compression bandaging, as well as a home exercise program to perform while in compression bandages.

    • Maintenance Phase is the second and will require fewer and  shorter visits with your therapist, as we transition into self-care, wait for your garments to arrive and then discharge you to  continue maintaining on your own. Your therapist will educate you on self-manual lymphatic drainage, your individual needs, and compression garment options.

What to expect at your first appointment

  • Your first appointment will be a consultation with the lymphedema therapist. She will explain in further detail the above discussed program and assist you in making decisions about your plan of care and what treatments will work best for you. Once these decisions have been made, we will begin the decongestive phase of treatment
    and discuss the maintenance phase and long-term plan.

What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?

  • Manual lymphatic drainage, commonly referred to as MLD is a gentle manual technique applied with the hands to the skin and is used to move lymphatic fluid out of the swollen part of the body by creating pathways that are not naturally found in the lymphatic system and recruit structures of the system that do not usually process fluid from the swollen limb. It is applied in a specific sequence that your therapist will teach you, starting by clearing central structures in the trunk, and then branching into the affected limb(s).

How much does it cost?

  • Most insurances will cover the therapy treatments, and you will be billed through the hospital for any copays or costs outside of what your insurance covers. The supplies and garments, however, are rarely covered by insurance. Insurance benefits and or authorization will need to be established early on in treatment. Your therapist will discuss your options and prices with you to help you make the best decision you can about investing in your health and the management of your condition. The therapist is not licensed to sell any garments or supplies and can only assist you in purchasing or suggest products for you to purchase through a vendor of your choosing.


Kelly Laake PTA, LVN, CLT-LANA

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