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Conquering Lymphedema with the Power of Physical Therapy

Category: St. Luke’s Proud
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St. Luke’s Physical Therapist Nicole Parmann, PT, DPT, CLT-LANA, works with a patient at St. Luke's 9th Avenue Suites.

How Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) Offers Hope and Relief in Duluth 

“There isn't a cure for lymphedema. That can be pretty emotional for some people when they find out,” said St. Luke’s Physical Therapist Nicole Parmann, PT, DPT, CLT-LANA.

Lymphedema is a chronic condition where the lymphatic system, responsible for draining and filtering interstitial fluid in body tissues, becomes disrupted. This leads to swelling, typically in the arms or legs. Common causes of lymphedema include cancer and its treatments, obesity, venous issues and hereditary factors.

The severity of lymphedema varies from person to person, impacting mobility and self-image. While there is no cure, physical therapy offers hope. “I specialize in Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT),” said Nicole. “This is a type of physical therapy that can help to significantly reduce symptoms and manage lymphedema. I’ve seen it do wonders.”

CDT consists of an active treatment phase where patients meet with their physical therapist regularly to improve their lymphedema as much as possible. This is followed by a long-term home maintenance program.

There are four main components of CDT:

  1. Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD): This specialized massage technique stimulates the lymphatic system. It plays a pivotal role in redirecting excess fluid and reducing swelling.
  2. Compression Therapy: This involves using short-stretch bandages or various compression garments to support lymphatic drainage and prevent further fluid buildup.
  3. Exercises: Low impact and Active Range of Motion (AROM) exercises are used to encourage lymphatic fluid reabsorption and maintain joint mobility.
  4. Skin Care: Proper skin care is crucial to prevent infections and complications in areas prone to lymphedema.

In some cases, pneumatic pumps may be recommended to aid in fluid drainage. Once symptoms have been reduced, the home maintenance phase is key to preventing lymphedema progression in most cases. CDT can be beneficial for managing related conditions such as lipedema.

“My treatment plans are tailored to each patient,” said Nicole, “since there is such a broad spectrum in lymphedema severity. It’s rewarding to help improve my patients’ self-image.”

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for the best outcomes in managing lymphedema. While a referral is not required for this service, individuals experiencing undiagnosed swelling issues should talk to their primary care provider first to rule out other underlying conditions.

If patients have already received a lymphedema diagnosis, they can schedule an appointment directly.

A referral is not required. To schedule an appointment, call 218.249.6040 or request an appointment online.