Lymphedema – Reduction Phase:  Making it work with limited time & limited budget

The reduction phase of treatment, the process of reducing the size of the area affected, is an intensive form of treatment requiring quite a bit of commitment and compliance from the patient.  Not only is there a time commitment but also a financial commitment.  I don’t want to scare people away from this treatment as it can be quite necessary but, I like being straight up and clear what the whole process entails.

In order to reduce the affected area, for example an arm or a leg, the golden standard is to bandage the area.  These compression bandages help to bring the fluid out of the area and ultimately, reduce the size and improve overall tissue health.  In a perfect world, a patient would come into the clinic every day for two weeks for Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) and compression bandages are applied after each treatment.  The patient would then wear the compression bandages day and night and the whole process would be repeated the following day.  This can be challenging in many ways for patients.  Not only is it a big time commitment, chiseling time out of every day to come to the clinic for treatment, but it is also a big financial commitment.  Daily treatment can add up quickly especially if the patient doesn’t have extended health benefits.

I totally get it.  It may not seem feasible for many people.  This process however is the best way to get the affected area down in size.  There are however, some ways to help reduce the time coming into the clinic and the overall cost of these treatments.

Self bandaging and self MLD!

This past June, I did my re-certification of Dr. Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage and Combined Decongestive Therapy.  During the re-certification, one of our tasks was self bandage one of our arms.  I thought this was a great exercise.  I’ve told many patients that they can self bandage but to be honest, I hadn’t tried doing it myself.  I may be able to talk the talk, but can I walk the walk?

I know that this is something that many patients are reluctant to do as they are worried about not doing a good job.  Well, I’m not going to say it’s easy but it’s absolutely doable!  This is a great way to offset some of the costs associated with combined decongestive work.  Coming in daily for treatment can be a costly endeavour.  If you have the ability to self-bandage you may be able to reduce the amount of time spent coming into the clinic.  Or, if something feels a bit off with the bangaging once you have left the clinic, you then have the ability to re-wrap yourself.  Being able to shower when you want and then re-wrap yourself gives you a bit more flexibility with your schedule and reduces the amount of time you have without your bandage on.

If self bandaging is something that a patient has agreed to do, a session can be set up with your therapist to give you tips and tricks on self-bandaging.  If you have a loved one or a friend that will be helping you around the house you can have them come along to this session.   They can be taught to help out with the bandaging as well.  There is even a video that can be loaned out to patients that can provide even more assistance when at home.

The same goes for the self MLD.  Your therapist can give you techniques to assist with your self-care regime.  This one is the easier things to do at home and should be a part of a patients daily routine.

Make sure to have a candid discussion with your therapist as to what they best treatment plan will be for you.  The whole goal is to get the lymphedema reduced so discuss with your therapist and figure out the best course of action.  Just remember, self bandaging and self MLD is totally do-able and with a little practice and patience, you will start to feel more comfortable each time you do it.

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By Karen Kingsley
Registered Massage Therapist

Massage Therapist Karen Kingsley