Physiotherapy can help in the management of lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is a condition caused by a build-up of lymph fluid resulting in swelling of one or more regions of the body. It occurs when the lymphatic system is not working properly.

The lymphatic system is a network of lymph vessels and nodes throughout body which transports lymph fluid from the body tissues to the bloodstream.

If the lymphatic system is damaged or is not functioning properly, the lymph fluid cannot drain correctly, hence resulting in swelling of parts of the body.

Functions of the lymphatic system

  • Transports nutrients and water from the body tissues to the cardiovascular system
  • Helps in the immune defence of the body

There are 2 types of lymphoedema

  1. Primary lymphoedema is congenital condition and involves dysfunction of the lymphatic vessels.
  2. Secondary lmphoedema is the most common type, resulting from damage to the lymphatic system.

Causes of secondary lymphoedema

  • Cancer treatments involving removal of lymph nodes and radiotherapy
  • Trauma and tissue damage
  • Infection
  • Immobility
  • Obesity

Symptoms of lymphoedema

  • Swelling of a region of the body
  • Feelings of heaviness
  • Aches
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Clothes, footwear or jewellery feeling tighter


  • Education
  • Skin care
  • Manual therapy (scar tissue massage, joint mobilisations)
  • Manual Lymphatic drainage
  • Exercise programs
  • Compression therapy (Prescription of compression garment)

(Post-operative assessment for any surgical intervention for cancer diagnosis)

Early intervention is very important to stop the progression of lymphoedema, otherwise there can be thickening of the skin, development of fibrosis, fatty deposits and other secondary changes.