MMC-Ladysmith’s occupational therapists use a client-centered approach to help seniors, adults and children increase their ability to perform daily tasks or skills for their jobs.

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is caused by lymph fluid build up or fluid congestion in an area of the body such as the arms, legs, head, genitals, or trunk. It occurs when lymphatic vessels are blocked, damaged, or missing, resulting in the failure of the vessels to move fluid, waste, and plasma proteins from the affected area. Lymphedema is categorized as either Primary Lymphedema or Secondary Lymphedema.

Primary Lymphedema is present in youth, either immediately at birth or during puberty. There is also an adult onset which may occur after age 35 and often becomes evident after weight gain or following the birth of a second or third child.

Secondary Lymphedema is caused by permanent damage to the lymphatic system. The removal of nodes and/or excessive scarring around the nodes or lymphatic structures are common triggers. Surgeries such as mastectomy, OBGYN surgery, abdominal surgery or bladder surgery may also trigger Secondary Lymphedema.

The Lymphatic System
The purpose of the Lymphatic System is to aid in the drainage of an “overflow” of water and excess substances from the body by rejecting potentially harmful by-products. The Lymphatic System also helps regulate fluid volume and the pressure within a tissue. It also transports hormones and plays an important role in the immune system by preventing infection from spreading.

Additional Causes 
Trauma, such as a fall or blunt force to any part of the body which results in damage to the lymphatic system may also cause lymphedema. Lymphedema may also be caused by:

  • A benign or malignant growth blocking the lymphatics
  • Disease of the veins which may spread to the lymphatics due to chronic leakage of venous fluid
  • Paralysis (lack of muscle movement)
  • Limited mobility
  • Obesity


  • Heaviness of affected area
  • Persistent swelling
  • Clothing not fitting well
  • Achy feeling- often described as tight or full (rings, watches and jewelry may feel tight)
  • Pain caused by the extra weight of affected area
  • Decreased sensation
  • Arm or leg fatigue due to extra weight
  • Reoccurring infection in the affected area
  • Decreased movement in joints

What to Expect During Assessment and Treatment
Your first visit would require you to fill out a medical history form. The therapist will use this to help determine the best treatment option to maximize the benefit which may include compression garments, wrapping of the extremity, Manual Lymphatic Therapy (MLT), exercise and education. A full assessment will then be completed which involves measuring the affected area and assessing the integrity of the skin. Comfortable clothing is recommended for access to the affected area. Although Lymphedema is not curable, the goal of therapy is to decrease the effects and educate patients to manage independently at home.

If Left Untreated...
Without proper treatment, Lymphedema may result in:

  • Chronic infection
  • Decreased ability to move the affected extremity
  • Decreased sensation
  • Inability to care for the affected extremity
  • Difficulties with activities of daily living

Department Hours

Monday - Friday: 7:00 am - 4:30 pm

Free screenings for Lymphedema are available through the Rehab Department. You may also consult with your physician to help determine if you have Lymphedema.

Find an Occupational Therapist

Our occupational therapists provide coaching, education, evaluation and training for patients of all ages suffering from injuries or pain affecting their ability to work or live life to the fullest. Our individualized care programs help guide patients to a full and effective recovery.

Find a Provider

occupational therapy at Marshfield Medical Center - Ladysmith