The Importance of a 50,000 Mile Check -up

by Linda McGrath Boyle, PT, DPT, OCS, CLT-LANA

It is not unusual to meet a person with lymphedema who has elastic compression garments that are more than 6 months old. In other words, there has been no evaluation or treatment of the limb or swollen area by a trained lymphedema therapist for as long as the person has had the old garments.

Below is an outline concerning lymphedema management.

Tips for Successful Lymphedema Management: Recommendation Regarding Supplies 

  • Know your insurance.
  • Which durable medical equipment (DME) companies offer coverage for your lymphedema supplies?
  • What is your annual bandage and garment benefit?
  • Replace garments every 6 months if worn daily.
  • Know the lifespan of bandaging alternatives and replace as recommended by each manufacturer.
  • Discard short-stretch bandages after one year of consistent use.
  • Replace open-cell grey foam frequently after 3 months of nightly wear, because they break down easily.
  • Obtain new closed-cell foams such as orange Komprex after one year of continuous use.
  • Launder or replace finger and toe bandages frequently to keep them germ-free.
  • Clean or replace footwear regularly to avoid fungal infections.

The top 10 Reasons to See Your Lymphedema Therapists Every 6 Months

  1. To prevent an infection that could result in a hospital stay.
  2. To prevent the involved area from becoming larger.
  3. To prevent the involved area from becoming firm.
  4. To obtain new garments for consistent and effective compression.
  5. To learn about new and improved lymphedema products that are being invented.
  6. To review your self-care strategies which may change and reduce the time required for your daily routine.
  7. Your insurance company may change your garment benefit.
  8. If your lymphedema worsens, you may need to repeat phase I treatment, which includes daily bandaging, manual lymphatic drainage, skin care, and exercises. If your lymphedema is well-controlled, you may only need one visit for new garment measurements and review of self-care instruction.
  9. Most people more effectively control their lymphedema if they attend regular checkups with their lymphedema therapist.
  10. Last but not least, you'll receive support and encouragement from your lymphedema therapist. You deserve credit for a job well done!

Taking care of your lymphedema is a lot of work and it challenges your ability to perform daily activities. It can also be very expensive. Some people with lymphedema do not wish to return to their lymphedema therapists because it reminds them of a difficult time in their lives. However, controlling your swelling helps to prevent a cellulitic infection that could result in a hospital stay as well as a large and firmer limb. If you do develop an infection, it is important to make an appointment with your lymphedema therapist, as you may need active treatment. You may need to learn new bandaging routines and purchase compression garments with different specifications.

Regular checkups include re-evaluation of fluid volume, tissue firmness, skin condition, body weight, and exercise program. Controlling body weight and exercising regularly are important for persons with lymphedema.

I encourage you to be an educated consumer and find a lymphedema therapist that can be your partner in managing this life-long condition. You can visit lymphnet.org or clt-lana.org to find a list of therapists in your area. When moving or heading south for the winter (snowbird syndrome) please ask your current lymphedema therapist to recommend a new qualified lymphedema therapist.

It is helpful to regularly consult the National Lymphedema Network's website for new and updated information. The website contains reliable information according to current medical evidence or expert opinion.