Treatment for Lymphedema

Treatment for Lymphedema

Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is the recommended best practice for the treatment of lymphedema and is provided by certified CDT therapists.

Treatment is designed to reduce and manage volume and decrease the risk of complications such as increased swelling and / or infection. In addition, life-long self-management is vital for optimal outcomes.

Complex Decongestive Therapy includes:

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) – redirects lymph fluid
  • Compression Therapy – compression bandaging and compression garments
  • Exercise/movement – activates muscle and joint pump to promote lymph flow
  • Skin and Wound Care – keeping the skin clean and using ph neutral lotions
  • Instruction on Self-Care Management

Other components that may be a part of CDT are:

  • Compression Pump Therapy
  • Nutrition
  • Surgery* Not considered part of CDT Therapy but is a treatment option

CDT has two phases:

Phase I: Reductive CDT

Reductive CDT can last anywhere from 1 – 8 weeks of rigorous treatment. Depending on the severity of the condition and the therapist you visit, you could have up to 5 sessions a week. During this phase, you would be required to wear compression bandages the entire time, except when you shower, swim or have MLD performed. Depending on how responsive your body is to treatment will determine the number of sessions that are needed in the reductive phase.

Phase II: Maintenance

In the maintenance phase, you will continue to apply the techniques learned in phase I for years to come. Along with other maintenance measures, such as:

  • Getting fitted for compression garments/nighttime garments
  • Utilizing a compression pump
  • Understanding the signs and symptoms of infection
  • Skin care
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition

On your Lymphedema journey, you will learn all these techniques and apply them to your daily routine.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

MLD is a specialized massage that helps to promote the movement of lymphatic fluid out of a swollen area(s). Eg. arm/leg/face/neck/abdomen/genitals


Lymphedema is best managed with bandaging. Qualified Lymphedema Therapists will perform this technique and teach you how to self-bandage. This is a specialized technique and is considered the gold standard for lymphedema management.

Compression Garments

Compression garments are essential to managing lymphedema. Custom flat knit compression garments are ideal for those with stage 2 lymphedema and higher. Garments are prescribed by your doctor or therapist. It is essential to have a qualified garment fitter to assist you in obtaining the necessary garments.

Compression Pump Therapy (Pneumatic Compression)

Compression therapy uses controlled pressure to increase blood flow in your legs and improve blood flow to the heart. At the same time, it supports your veins and decreases swelling. Contact a garment fitter or medical supply store for more information.

Skin Care

Skin is the largest organ of your body. It often goes unrecognized. It is imperative to inspect your skin daily and take good care of your skin. Finding good quality lotions that are unscented and free of parabens are best for your skin.


If you or someone you know may have lymphedema, it can be devastating to hear the words “no cure”. The positive news is that with proper self-care habits you can make a significant difference in your health. Building healthy daily habits will not only improve your condition, it will also improve your mental health.


Nutrition is not a one-size fits all. In choosing a nutritional program that is best for you, some factors need to be considered. For example: food insensitivities, food intolerances, allergies, and digestive issues should be diagnosed to help you along your nutritional journey. As well, affordability, ease of preparing meals and accessibility to food items will also be determining factors of having a successful diet. Please consult a professional (Naturopath, Dietician, Nutritionist, Doctor) before creating a nutrition plan that is safe and effective for you. Some common lifestyle choices are:

  • Anti-inflammatory diet
  • Plant-Based diet
  • Low-Carbohydrate
  • Mediterranean (with lowered carbohydrate)
  • Keto

Exercise / Movement

Exercise and movement are essential for managing lymphedema. Please consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program. The type of exercise that is best suited for you, is one that you enjoy, are able to participate in consistently, and can afford . Some options include:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Walking/Running
  • Rebounding
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Strength Training


There are a couple surgical options available for lymphedema patients. However, it is important to note that not everyone is a viable candidate for surgery. As well as, surgery is not a cure all for lymphedema. It is advised you thoroughly research all surgical options and consult with a surgeon to determine what is best for you. These surgeries are:

  • Liposuction for Lymphedema
  • Lymphatic Venous Anastomosis (LVA)
  • Suction Assisted Protein Lipectomy (SAPL)
  • Supermicrosurgery
  • Vascularized lymph node transfer (lymphovenous transplant) (VLNT)