March is National Lymphedema Awareness Month

One in 1,000 people in the U.S. will experience secondary lymphedema

Swelling of an arm or leg may happen with a sprain or a break but when swelling begins to progress overtime, leaving an individual with chronic pain, lymphedema may be the cause. 

March is Lymphedema Awareness Month, during which doctors, patients, and advocacy groups join forces to increase awareness of this long-term condition.

Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of lymph fluid that can cause swelling in the arms or legs. Lymph fluid is part of the immune system and helps defend the body against infection and cancer.

Lymphedema occurs when lymph fluid isn't able to properly drain. Possible causes include:

  • Damage to the lymph system from infection or radiation treatment.
  • Removal of the lymph nodes. This is often done during cancer treatment.

Lymphedema is most common in the arms and legs but it can happen anywhere in the body. According to the National Cancer Institute, swelling caused by lymphedema may produce symptoms such as:

  • A full sensation in the arms or legs.
  • Decreased flexibility in the hands, wrist or ankles.
  • Difficulty fitting into clothing in one specific area.
  • Ring, wristwatch or bracelet tightness.
  • A tight feeling in the skin.

“Lymphedema is a progressive disease and early diagnosis and treatment is critical. The main goal once diagnosed is to reduce the swelling and keep it to a minimum. Treatment regimen may include skin care, simple lymphatic drainage (gentle message technique), compression bandaging, and exercise and movement,” says Aspirus Physical Therapist Nicole Marczak, PT, DPT, CLT. 

When left untreated, lymphedema can cause major health problems. Abnormal swollen arms and legs can lead to limited movement, numbness, harden skin and flare up due to minor wounds and infection.

Talk to your primary care provider if you are experiencing any of the symptoms that could be attributed to lymphedema. To find an Aspirus provider near you, visit