Supplemental Lymphedema Strategies for Leg Elevation
Have you noticed that every time someone comes out of surgery or is recovering from a recent injury or illness, healthcare professionals encourage them to elevate their legs when there’s notable swelling. Although this has proven to be an effective strategy for any limb of the body, there are more ways to reduce fluid build-up at a faster and more efficient rate.
When an individual is diagnosed with true lymphedema, there are several observable symptoms that need to be considered before trying lymphedema strategies for leg elevation at home.
Supplemental Lymphedema Strategies for Leg Elevation;
- Reduced range of motion: unable to perform the full motion of the joints because there’s too much fluid in the way.
- Swelling in the small digits including fingers and toes: Fluid can migrate into the fingers and toes, which is difficult to get rid of with limb elevation alone.
- Aching and joint pain: Fluid gathered around the joints can also be accompanied by inflammation, which causes pain with or without movement.
- Skin hardening and discolouration: With prolonged and severe lymphedema comes skin changes such has drying out, hardening, and discolouring of the skin surface.
- Recurring infections: Skin changes and increased swelling can make a person more susceptible skin lesions and infections in the affected limbs (i.e. cellulitis)
(source: Mayo Clinic (2020).
Although leg elevation does reduce swelling, it alone will not address all complications especially in more severe cases of lymphedema.
Here are a few strategies that you can consider adding to your daily lymphedema management schedule, with or without the assistance of others:
- Regular skin care and check ups:Skin care should begin immediately before skin hardening (fibrosis) or lesions have a chance to develop. Hardened tissue only further adds to restricted joint movement and can cause you additional pain.
- Keep your skin clean. Whether it’s by typical bathing or a sponge bath. Keep the skin on the affected limbs clean in order to prevent potential infection.
- Apply lotion. Make sure you are applying lotion to your affected limbs in order to prevent drying out of the skin. If you already have lesions or open sores, rub around and not over the sores in order to prevent irritation and infection.
- Perform routine skin checks. Have someone or yourself regularly check your swollen skin for redness, inflammation, lesions, or sores. If any area of the limb is red and hot to the touch, consult with your primary physician immediately. As these are signs of potential infections.
- Lymphatic massage:Before ANY lymphedemic tissue massage, consult with a lymphedema certified specialist (this often includes physical and occupational therapists). Massaging the limbs incorrectly could encourage more fluid build-up, irritate the skin, cause more pain, or move fluid too quickly which can negatively impact the heart.
Ensure to note that lymphatic massage doesn’t look anything like your typical massage for muscle soreness. Lymphatic massage is a very light-touch technique applied lengthwise on the limb, moving the fluid upwards from the digits to the proximal joints (i.e. start with toes, then ankle, then calf, then thigh). Some individuals who have lymphedema in more than one limb may be put on a schedule so as to not overwhelm the heart by massaging all of the limbs at once.
Potential strategies to incorporate into a management plan:
- Regular joint motion and exercise: . Although leg elevation helps move fluid in the limbs, there is still zero movement going on. In order for fluid to actually recycle back into the lymphatic system, you must move or exercise daily. This includes regular standing and walking breaks from your recliner. If you are less mobile, you can still perform leg exercises in sitting via leg weights or leg cycles.
- Pain management: . By regularly exercising and massaging lymphedemic limbs, you are already participating in ways to minimise your joint pain. If you are still experiencing severe pain despite your best efforts for lymphedema management, consult with your doctor.
- Dietary changes: . A poor diet can contribute to fluid build-up in your limbs. Start simple by limiting the intuitively “bad foods” from your diet.
Look for a durable recliner with the following features to promote leg elevation;
- Medical grade electrics
- Leg elevation above hip height
- Independent leg and back motors
- Ability to customise the foot rest
- Repairable and replaceable parts
If you have any questions or concerns about supplemental lymphedema strategies for leg elevation. Such as, how often or where to start in your lymphedema management schedule.
And you can find a local Ambassador retailer for an electric lift and recline chair.