Swollen Arms and Legs: Is it Lymphedema?

Swollen Arms and Legs: Is it Lymphedema?

Secondary lymphedema 一 a common condition that affects about 1 in every 1,000 Americans 一 refers to swelling from increased lymphatic fluid in your arm or leg that develops as a result of a primary condition. 

Lymphedema often develops in people who have undergone lymph node removal surgery, but it can also form if you develop an infection from a cut or wound on your arm or leg.

In addition to swelling, lymphedema also causes skin changes and discoloration, pain, impaired sensation in the affected limb, and a sensation of heaviness in an arm or leg. 

Our board-certified podiatrists and wound care specialists at Advanced Foot, Ankle, & Wound Specialists understand the complexities of lymphedema, and if you suspect you have it, we encourage you to visit us. 

In the meantime, continue reading to learn more about lymphedema and the warning signs that you’re dealing with it.

Common signs of lymphedema

Lymphedema often develops after surgery to remove lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment, but the condition isn't limited to those with cancer. Lymphedema can develop after any surgery or infection. 

You might suspect that you have lymphedema if:

Joints near the swelling may feel stiff and even sore, and you may experience a reduced range of motion. For some people, these symptoms may be mild, but it’s best not to ignore these signs of lymphedema. Left untreated, lymphedema can increase your risk of slow-healing wounds. 

Are you dealing with lymphedema? 

If you notice swelling in one of your limbs, first remove any wrist watches, rings, and bracelets on the affected limb even if your swelling is mild at first. This can prevent complications later on if the swelling increases.  

For the health of your limbs, have lymphedema diagnosed and monitored as soon as possible. No matter which location you visit  一 Tamarac, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Coral Springs, or Boca Raton, Florida 一 our team is here to answer any questions you have.  

Diagnosing lymphedema requires a physical exam, a review of your symptoms, questions about your medical history (especially any recent surgeries or treatments for cancer), and reviewing diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI or ultrasound. 

Diagnostic imaging isn’t necessary for everyone, but these scans do provide detailed images of your lymphatic system if needed.

What to do if you have lymphedema

If we determine that your swelling is the result of lymphedema, we may recommend both lifestyle modifications and medical treatments to manage the swelling and prevent future incidents of lymphedema. 

We may recommend any of the following:

Avoid anything that compresses your affected limb

Anything that compresses your affected limb 一from carrying a heavy purse on your shoulder to wearing a nightgown with elastic-rimmed sleeves 一 can restrict your movement. 

Wear loose-fitting clothing, carry a lighter weight purse (ideally backpack style or fanny pack), and refrain from getting your blood pressure taken on your arm if that limb is affected. If needed, we can take a blood pressure reading on your thigh or ankle.

Stay consistent with any prescribed exercises

After any surgery, follow your aftercare instructions, including any exercises. If we prescribe exercises or instruct you to stay active, do so. Exercises and movement encourage proper lymph fluid drainage and can help prevent lymphedema. 

Try lymphatic massage and pneumatic compression

We may also recommend lymphatic massage. It’s a special type of massage designed to reduce swelling by encouraging lymph fluid drainage. 

Pneumatic compression devices are sleeves that slide over your calves and apply pressure to your legs. These sleeves also stimulate lymph fluid drainage. 


In some cases, we may advise you that surgery is the best course of action to treat lymphedema. 

The bottom line: If you have swollen arms or legs, reach out to us. We can get you the right treatment to help alleviate your symptoms and improve the health of your limbs.

Do you have questions about arm or leg swelling? Call the location of your choice or request an appointment online and get the answers you need.

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