The aim of treatment is to reduce and control swelling, prevent problems, such as infection and help you to live as normally as possible.
Different types of treatment such as compression bandages and taping, skin care, exercises and specialised massage techniques – known as Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) - can be used to bring lymphoedema under control.



Lymphoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs.

The lymphatic system is a network of channels and glands throughout the body that helps fight infection and remove excess fluid.

Lymphoedema develops when the lymphatic system doesn't work properly.  There is no cure for lymphoedema, but it is possible to control the main symptoms using techniques to minimise fluid build-up and stimulate the flow of fluid through the lymphatic system.


Lymph fluid is in all body tissues. It comes from the tiny blood vessels and usually it drains back into the bloodstream through channels called lymph vessels. These are part of the lymphatic system.  The main functions of the lymphatic system are helping fight infection and draining excess fluid from tissues.

Lymphoedema is caused by a problem with the lymphatic system,  A build up of lymph fluid in an area of the body can happen if lymph drainage channels or lymph nodes are blocked, removed or damaged. This causes swelling called lymphoedema.

In some people, lymphoedema can be due to cancer causing changes in the lymphatic system. In others, cancer treatments, such as surgery or radiotherapy to lymph nodes, can cause lymphoedema.

There are two main types of lymphoedema:

  • primary lymphoedema – caused by faulty genes that affect the development of the lymphatic system; it can develop at any age, but usually starts during infancy, adolescence, or early adulthood

  • secondary lymphoedema – caused by damage to the lymphatic system or problems with the movement and drainage of fluid in the lymphatic system; it can be the result of an infection, injury, cancer treatment, inflammation of the limb, or a lack of limb movement



The main symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in all or part of a limb or another part of the body.  Without treatment, it will usually become more severe and persistent.  Other symptoms can include heaviness, tightness or stiffness. You might feel this before they develop any swelling. The area may also ache.

Lymphoedema mostly affects the arms or legs. But it can develop in other body areas such as the chest or back, abdomen (tummy area), genitals, head, neck or face, breast, armpit, and pelvic area.

It's important that lymphoedema is identified and treated as soon as possible. If it isn't treated, it can get worse.

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
British Lymphology Society
Manual Lymphatic Drainage MLD UK
Health & Care Professions Counci

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