Healthy Habits Can Also Help
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is swelling that usually occurs in one arm or leg. The swelling is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the superficial tissues just below the skin. If untreated, lymphedema can progress over time and lead to problems such as skin breakdown and infection. Individuals may also experience loss of motion and strength, making daily activities more difficult. This condition is painful and can occur as a result of trauma, surgery, radiation, inflammation or infection.
At Covenant Health Therapy Centers at LeConte Medical Center, lymphedema treatments and therapies vary based on patients’ individual needs. Treatment may include manual lymph drainage to help move fluid out of the affected area, as well as compression therapy (garments used to reduce swelling). Other therapies include gentle exercise to help reduce swelling and maintain muscle strength.
Best Possible Care
Marie Brannen, OTR/L, CLT, is a certified lymphedema therapist and breast cancer rehab therapist who recently joined the staff at Covenant Health Therapy Center – LeConte. She has more than a decade of experience treating patients suffering from lymphedema.
“I’m an occupational therapist, so we use meaningful tasks to motivate our patients so they can have the best possible therapy experience,” Brannen says. “We get to know their lifestyles and develop individual plans that work best for them. That helps keep them on track and prevents progressing the disorder.”
Brannen specializes in treating patients with lymphedema both in the inpatient setting at LeConte Medical Center and in the outpatient setting at the therapy center. She spends time talking to her patients about their overall health and how to listen to their bodies.
“Many people come in with pain, often neuropathy, and skin irritation. These are real problems that keep people from living their best quality of life,” Brannen reports. “We focus on the four pillars of health: sleep, stress, nutrition and movement. These factors are all tightly intertwined with our lymphatic system.”
Brannen says that once she learns a patient’s goals, she can help determine the best approach toward achieving wellness of the whole body and mind. This includes assessing a patient’s stage of progression if they are already suffering from lymphedema, or working with people who are facing surgery and are at risk of developing the condition in the future.
Brannen reflects, “The pandemic has made me think about how we all need to take more control of our health. We need to listen to our medical doctors, but also keep trying new foods, different ways to move and various new therapies that work for our bodies.” It is Brannen’s goal to eventually create a community support system where people dealing with lymphedema can meet and help one another with problem areas and keep each other motivated.
“Everyone is a candidate for possibly developing lymphedema because we are living in a state of inflammation.” Brannen says pa r t of listening to our bodies’ needs include noticing signs of dehydration, unusual swelling, fatigue and skin conditions. She says, “If we are inflamed on the inside, imagine what that is doing to our attitudes on the outside!”
Do you suffer from lymphedema? If so, ask yourself these questions about daily habits to help reduce common side effects.
Sleep – Are you getting enough sleep to feel rested? Sleep is how the lymphatic system and immune system heal themselves.
Stress – Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies. Can you identify major stressors in your day? What are some ways to reduce your overall stress level?
Movement – Increasing movement has many health benefits, including preventing and reducing the effects of lymphedema.
Nutrition – Lymphedema is an inflammatory disease. Consider eating anti-inflammatory foods to give your body a break from these periods of inflammation.
The Therapy Center is located adjacent to LeConte Medical Center in the Dolly Parton Center for Women’s Services building. Visit CovenantHealth.com/Therapy-Centers to learn more.