Managing lymphoedema through physiotherapy

Lymphoedema: The condition

Lymphoedema is characterised by swelling of certain parts of the body, caused by problems with the lymphatic system. Normally, fluid and proteins leak into the body tissues regularly from the blood. This tissue fluid bathes the cells, supplies their nutritional needs and receives back the products of their metabolism. The lymphatic system is a network of tubes throughout the body that drains this fluid (called lymph) from tissues and empties it back into the bloodstsream. When this system is not working properly, lymphoedema can occur.

Any part of the body can be affected by lymphoedema, but it tends to target the arms and legs. Around 300,000 Australians will experience lymphoedema at any given time. Women who have undergone mastectomy and radiotherapy for treatment of breast cancer are particularly susceptible to lymphoedema of the arm and sometimes the adjacent chest wall on the affected side.

Signs and symptoms

Lymphoedema usually starts as a painless slow swelling of an arm or leg. As the swelling increases, the limb may become heavy and uncomfortable and more difficult to move. Sometimes infection can occur. With further swelling the limb may become painful and hard and it may be resistant to pressure when pressed.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphoedema. The condition can usually be managed by a combination of techniques which can include:

  • compression bandaging to reduce the swelling
  • specialised lymphatic massage
  • compression garments
  • an exercise routine
  • skin care

Speak to the physiotherapists in this practice about the treatment options that are available to you.

We can help!

Physiotherapy is beneficial in the treatment of lymphatic conditions. Janine Austen is a certified lymphoedema therapist and is a member of the Australasian Lymphology Association (ALA). She can assist patients with pain management, recovery following treatment for cancer and in the management of lymphoedema. She can also advise you on exercise strategies that will work for you in the treatment of lymphoedema.