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Physical Therapy for Swelling

Swelling, or edema, around a joint or in a limb can happen for many reasons. Some swelling after an injury or a surgery is normal and expected. Occasionally the swelling will increase to a point that body will not be able to resolve it on its own. This accumulation can be due to an overload on the system or a problem with the functioning ability the lymphatics. The lymph vessels collect lymphatic fluid, which is composed of protein, water, fats, and waste products from cells. These vessels found throughout the body with then transport the fluid to the lymph nodes, to filter the fluid for waste product and foreign cell removal. After the fluid has been filtered through the lymph nodes, other lymph vessels return the fluid back to the blood within the blood vessels.

The lymph system is our body’s system for transporting white blood cells that help the body stay healthy and fight infection. Prolonged build up of edema will not allow these cells to be transported to an area of the body that needs help fighting infection or foreign bodies. Locally at the area of edema, there can be an increase in risk for skin infection but will also decrease the function and health of the soft tissue and muscle in the same body region.

If time, ice or elevation does not provide you with a reduction of your swelling, it is time to seek out other forms of treatment. Swelling and edema can be effectively treated and managed using a technique called manual lymph drainage (MLD). The goal of MLD is to stimulate lymph nodes and vessels that are low functioning or have been blocked by the buildup of edema in an area. MLD will also work to re-route the stagnate fluid to take advantage of lymph nodes and vessels that can assist in the removal of excess swelling. This technique is a series of particular strokes and skin manipulations in specific directions with a light pressure that stimulates and changes pressure within the subcutaneous tissue, lymph nodes and vessels.

A physical therapist with this training can help you treat your swelling by using MLD in combination with gentle exercise to promote fluid movement, educate on strategies for self-care and swelling management, and discuss options for compression therapy if necessary.  If you have any questions, please call our Woodinville office at (425) 402-9772.

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