Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes swelling in various parts of the body. It can increase the risk of infection and result in a skin condition called cellulitis. There is no known cure for lymphedema, but a trained therapist can help relieve the symptoms. Lymphedema therapists use certain massage techniques that stimulate and drain the lymphatic channels
Nurses and physical therapists often train in this area of health care. Massage therapists and aestheticians who want to add treating lymphedema patients to a list of services provided also train in the specialty. Lymphedema therapists work in hospitals, medical and hospice centers, and private doctor’s offices. Typically, medical institutions require employees to be physical or occupational professionals with a certificate in lymphedema therapy.
Some therapists may maintain a private practice and accept referrals from physicians. Cancer centers either hire or refer patients to lymphedema therapists because of the link between various cancers and the condition. Studies show patients receiving treatment for breast cancer are often susceptible to lymphedema.
Education and Certification
Various institutions such as the Academy of Lymphatic Studies and the Dr. Vodder School International offer certified courses in two techniques successful in treating lymphedema: complete decongestive therapy and manual lymphatic drainage.
Certification standards are published by the Lymphology Association of North America, a nonprofit organization established to provide education to health care professionals. In the United States, lymphedema therapists are not required to become LANA certified, however, many choose to participate in the 135-hour specialized training. Coursework includes theory and hands-on instruction, and practice on actual lymphedema patients. Therapists must pass an exam before certification, which is valid for six years. They must re-certify by repeating and passing the exam. Therapists can stay abreast of new developments by participating in ongoing training.
A lymphedema therapist customizes treatment plans after reviewing a patient’s medical history. She will outline a management plan along with a specific timetable for therapy. These professionals perform other duties in addition to the light-pressure massage that transports fluid out of defined areas. Equally important is a technique called compression bandaging. Administering multilayered bandages following the massage helps prevent the fluid from reoccurring. She can also provide instruction on the proper care and maintenance of your skin as a preventative measure to ward off infections. Skilled in teaching range-of-motion exercises, the therapist will design a therapy plan for the patient to do at home.
There are not enough trained therapists to fill the requirements in some geographical areas, reports the Stanford University School of Medicine. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physical therapists was $76,310 as of May, 2012. The BLS further reported job growth in this profession is on the rise. Due to the aging baby-boomer population, the demand for therapists is “expected to increase 39 percent from 2010 – 2020.”