Lymphedema Therapy

Lymphedema Therapy
at Karmanos Cancer Institute

Lymphedema (LIM-fuh-DEE-muh) is the swelling in a body part, usually an arm or leg, caused by the accumulation of lymph fluid. It interferes with normal movement and is sometimes painful. It is unsightly and causes problems with the fit of clothing. It can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Radiation
  • Surgery
  • Chronic infections
  • Lymph system birth defect

Lymphedema is a chronic, progressive condition that requires treatment for a lifetime.

Comprehensive Lymphedema Therapy

There are four components to comprehensive lymphedema therapy (CLT):

  • Specialized manual techniques
  • Bandaging
  • Skin care
  • Exercise

In 1995, the Karmanos Cancer Institute established the first comprehensive lymphedema therapy center in Michigan. It continues to be a leader in the field.

Today the Institute's collaboration with experts at the Detroit Medical Center's Rehabilitation Institute offers unique aspects, including:

  • Collaboration and patient focus of oncology and rehabilitation specialists;
  • Use of rehabilitation specialists, physical therapists and occupational therapists for joint mobility and musculoskeletal problems;
  • Largest team of trained lymphedema therapists working together in Michigan; and
  • Multiple therapy sites throughout southeastern Michigan.

Phase I

During an initial consultation, the nurse practitioner recommends the therapy plan and refers the patient to a lymphedema therapist at a Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan site most convenient for the patient.

The therapist develops the plan to manage limitations in mobility (walking) and function (use of limb).

Phase I involves daily sessions with the therapist for a period of two to four weeks. During this treatment period, the patient learns comprehensive lymphedema therapy techniques for their lifelong program.

Phase II

In Phase II, patients continue their individualized program at home. For some patients, the compression pump — an older form of therapy — is still the best treatment option.

What to Expect

  • Reduction in the swelling
  • Increased movement and strength of the limb
  • Reduction / elimination of pain

Because lymphedema is a lifelong problem, ongoing support is essential. The nurse practitioner provides:

  • Periodic check-ups and modifications in the home program;
  • New therapeutic options;
  • Lymphedema classes; and
  • Support groups

Persons Benefiting from a Nurse Practitioner Consult

  • Persons with new, untreated lymphedema;
  • Persons with lymphedema from any cause;
  • Persons who have had lymphedema treatment and want a checkup.


  • Your doctor can refer you directly to a therapist for CLT. The prescription should read "Lymphedema Evaluation and Treatment."
  • You and your doctor should discuss whether he/she or the Institute's nurse practitioner will perform the lymphedema checkups.
  • Anyone may make an appointment with the nurse practitioner by calling 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266).
  • Many HMOs and private health insurance companies approve our program. If your plan includes coverage for physical or occupational therapy, it is likely to reimburse for CLT. Some insurances require written authorization or referral for reimbursement of services.
  • It is important that you check what your particular insurance plan covers.


Lymphedema therapy is offered at several convenient locations. Lymphedema Treatment Locations