Lymphedema Therapy

Lymphedema is a swelling of the arms or legs, resulting from an accumulation of fluid that can occur when the lymphatic vessels are obstructed, impaired, or absent. More than half of the women who have surgery for breast cancer subsequently develop lymphedema. This occurs because surgeons frequently remove lymph nodes or otherwise interrupt the normal flow of lymph fluid. The condition can also be caused by injury to the lymph tissue from radiation therapy. Women who undergo surgery and also have radiation treatment are at higher risk for lymphedema. Lymphedema may also occur in people who are born with an impaired lymphatic system or has been seen to develop in teenagers for no apparent reason. 

Similar to a network of highways in the body, the lymphatic system moves metabolic waste from cells into the veins where it can be carried to the liver and kidneys for processing. An interruption of the system causes protein-rich fluid to back up, resulting in swelling. Left untreated, affected arms and legs can become painfully swollen and infected.

While lymphedema cannot be cured it can be successfully managed. Most people with lymphedema can lead a normal life by taking simple precautions to avoid activities that might aggravate the condition and learning home techniques that improve lymph flow. Harris Therapy provides comprehensive lymphedema education and treatment for existing mild to acute lymphedema and offers self-help and methods for patients to control their lymphedema long term. Harris Therapy staff includes licensed physical therapists that are certified lymphedema therapists.

Symptoms of Lymphedema Include:

  • Tightness, swelling or thickening anywhere in the extremity
  • Initially the swelling may fluctuate but, over time, worsens
  • Complaints of heaviness or aching of an extremity
  • Inability to wear rings, jewelry, watches or clothing that were previously comfortable
  • Inability to perform activities of daily living

Left untreated, lymphedema can be debilitating. It can be painful, disfiguring and rob the suffering of their sense of well-being. It can also lead to a self-imposed social isolation and result in patient depression.

Effective Treatment of Lymphedema

Harris therapy uses the Linda Miller technic and the LeDuc complete decongestive therapy (CDI)[hyper link to LeDuc] method, which was developed in Brussels, Belgium and employs manual lymph drainage, compression bandaging and a gentle compression pump to push the accumulated fluid through lymph channels and reduce swelling. All treatments are tailored to the specific needs of each patient. However, typical treatments may include manual lymph flow redirection; gently pushing of blocked lymph fluid up the patient’s arm (or leg) into healthy lymph channels.  Treatments can include:

  • Wrapping the limp in a compression bandage and leading the patient though a series of gentle exercises designed to aid the lymphatic system’s ability to drain fluid.
  • Placing the affected limb in a compression pump that operates as an adjustable multi-chambered sleeve, which mechanically compresses the limb from the extremity to the body. Harris Therapy uses the PROACT compression pump. This pump safely delivers either simultaneous or cascading pressure to a limb. The PROACT pump has been clinically proved superiors for venous and lymph drainage.
  • Wrapping the limb in compression bandages before the patient leaves to go home.

Integumentary is the treatment of conditions involving the skin and related organs. Common conditions managed include wounds and burns. Physical therapists utilize surgical instruments, mechanical lavage [hyper link to lavage], dressings and topical agents to debride necrotic tissue and promote tissue healing. Other commonly used interventions include exercise, edema control, splinting, and compression garments.


– Treatments also frequently incorporate Pilates & Yoga-based exercises that help restore the healthy flow of the lymph, increase flexibility and build strength. Pilates and Yoga techniques help patients develop better body awareness, which can help them in their overall health and enable them to perceive when their activities might cause lymphedema to recur.

These treatments are repeated during as many as three 90-minute sessions each week. After six to 10 sessions, many patients are able to manage their lymphedema at home using the techniques learned during therapy. Our therapy also includes instructions in skincare & hygiene of effected limbs, exercises and breathing techniques, and a home exercise program. Harris Therapy focuses on the patient’s physical as well as emotional needs so that the body has all of the tools it needs to heal.

Harris Therapy has certified Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists available at both our Aiea and Honolulu Clinics.