After Karen Perfect had cancer surgery, both her legs began retaining fluid and became very swollen. Her primary care physician, Dr. Tom Lawson, diagnosed lymphedema and referred her for therapy at Riverwood’s rehabilitation department.
Lymphedema is swelling, typically occurring in the arms or legs, which is caused by a buildup of lymph fluid. This condition can develop when lymph nodes are removed in surgery, vessels are injured during radiation therapy, and various other reasons. The lymph system filters and drains excess fluid in the body. When the lymph system is damaged, the protein-rich fluid builds up and cause swelling. As swelling persists, the skin becomes harder and can begin to discolor. There is then more risk for developing a serious condition called cellulitis.
“I was living with a lot of discomfort,” Karen explains. “I had trouble walking and getting in and out of the car. Hats off to Dr. Lawson for diagnosing the problem quickly and sending me to therapy.”
Karen noticed positive results after just the first week and by the second week she was regaining her independence. She worked with Terri Peterson, one of two therapists at Riverwood who is specially trained and certified in lymphedema therapy. An occupational therapist with 30 years of experience, Terri specializes in treating cancer and lymphedema patients along with those recovering from elbow, wrist and hand injuries.
Karen adds: “Using a special massage technique with her fingers, Terri worked miracles on my legs. Her compassion and concern for me was wonderful. I’m so happy that I can walk and move again with ease.”
Lymphedema can be successfully managed. Treatment focuses on reducing the swelling, increasing movement and decreasing the pain—supporting improved functioning and enjoyment of life. Karen was given daily exercises to do along with wearing compression stockings that encourage the flow of the lymph fluid from her legs.
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