Sometimes, a patient who has suffered cancer, had surgery, or experienced trauma to a limb will develop severe swelling that doesn’t go away on its own. This swelling, which can be debilitating and result in the loss of function, is a result of a problem with the body’s lymph system and is called lymphedema.
Lymphedema most commonly affects one arm or one leg, but it can be present in both arms and both legs. It can even affect other areas of the body, such as the hands, feet, chest, back, neck, face, and abdomen. Symptoms include swelling, a thickening and tightening of the skin around the affected limb or area, and a feeling of heaviness in the affected limb.
While lymphedema isn’t curable, it can be effectively treated. Elk Regional’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Department has offered lymphedema treatment for the last 10 years. Kerri Coudriet, a registered and licensed Occupational Therapist at Elk Regional, is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist with 14 years of experience in the field.
Mrs. Coudriet works with her patients to provide an initial evaluation and expectations for their treatment. She educates them on precautions they can take to prevent their condition from worsening and shows them how to perform therapeutic exercises at home on their own.
“The goal of lymphedema therapy is to treat the swelling while considering the distress and discomfort that a patient is feeling,” Mrs. Coudriet said. “My patients have different medical needs, different goals, support systems, pain levels, and treatment tolerances. That’s why I work so hard to individualize treatment plans for my patients.”
Those who can benefit from lymphedema therapy include those who suffer from chronic pain ailments, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraine headaches. Lymphedema therapy can also be beneficial for those whose lymph system still functions but is impaired due to trauma, surgery, cancer treatment, lymph node resection, venous insufficiency, wounds, sports-related injuries, and patients who are recovering from orthopaedic surgical procedures such as total joint replacement.
“Lymphedema therapy can make a real difference for patients,” Mrs. Coudriet said. “With ongoing treatment, the swelling can be reduced to a nearly normal level and a patient can regain function in their affected limb. Severe swelling isn’t something that people just have to live with.”
Mrs. Coudriet offers a variety of treatments for those suffering from lymphedema. Manual lymph drainage, a massage designed to help move stagnant lymph fluid from the affected limb, is one such treatment. She also offers bandaging, which uses three to four layers of compression to help the body move lymph fluid. With bandages in place, Mrs. Coudriet helps patients perform exercises designed to help the muscles move lymph fluid.
Mrs. Coudriet also works to educate her patients and their caregivers. She teaches them how to bandage and massage the affected limb, how to perform proper skin and nail care, and how to perform exercises at home.
“Education is one of the most important components of a patient’s treatment,” Mrs. Coudriet said. “Lymphedema is a condition that requires long-term, ongoing care. Patients and caregivers need to know how to effectively provide that care in the home.”
Elk Regional’s lymphedema management program is offered in the Outpatient Rehabilitation Building on the St. Marys campus to patients who have a physician order requesting occupational therapy evaluation and treatment for lymphedema.