From pregnancy to deep vein thrombosis to broken bones to medication side effects, there are many reasons you might notice swelling in your arms or legs. While you could be tempted to brush off swelling, you should know why you have swelling so you can take the appropriate steps to mitigate it.
If lymphedema is the cause of your swelling, our team of board-certified wound care specialists at Advanced Foot, Ankle, & Wound Specialists can recommend the appropriate treatments.
In the meantime, this guide highlights the advantages of swift treatment and why you should never ignore swelling in your arms or legs.
Why are your arms and legs swelling?
How we treat swelling depends on what’s causing it. For example, a blood clot and lymphedema both cause swelling, but doctors treat them differently.
Lymphedema often develops after you’ve had lymph nodes removed as part of a cancer treatment, but it can also occur if your lymph nodes become damaged. Infections, surgery, and radiation are examples of conditions that may damage your lymph nodes.
If you don’t have working lymph nodes, fluid can build up because it can’t drain properly, and all of that fluid causes your arm or leg to swell. In other words, lymphedema develops when your lymph nodes can’t properly drain the lymph fluid.
Lymphedema usually affects only one arm or leg, but it can occur in both legs or arms. You might suspect you have lymphedema if:
- Swelling in your arm or leg extends to your fingers or toes
- You notice a feeling of tightness in your affected limb
- Your mobility is affected (i.e., limited range of motion)
- You have had recurring infections
- The skin on your limb is thickened and/or hardened
While some people might notice only light swelling, severe swelling can cause achiness and can make it difficult to perform your daily tasks.
Why swift treatment matters
Treatment for swelling reduces your risk of unwanted complications. For example, untreated lymphedema can increase your risk of developing additional infections (such as cellulitis) and lymphangiosarcoma, a rare type of soft tissue cancer.
Once we diagnose lymphedema, we may recommend conservative treatments to manage your symptoms. These include:
Light exercise promotes lymph drainage. Exercise shouldn’t be vigorous, and you should always wear proper footwear to reduce the risk of cuts, blisters, or scrapes on your feet.
Manual lymph drainage massages encourage proper fluid drainage. But a massage might not be right if you have skin infections, blood clots, or other disorders affecting your lymph nodes.
Pneumatic compression refers to a special wearable sleeve that stimulates lymph drainage via a special pump that squeezes the sleeve. We might also recommend that you wear compression garments for the same reason.
If light exercise or massage doesn’t help, you’re not out of options. We may recommend surgery to remove excess tissue, promote healing, and help reduce the swelling.
Taking care of your limbs
Regardless of your treatment path, take care of your arm or leg and do everything you can to reduce the risk of complications. Inspect your limb daily for any signs of injury or infections. If you do spot the signs of infection, the right treatment can halt the spread of the infection to other parts of your body.
Always follow your treatment plan, wash and dry your leg or arm daily, and apply lotion to any dry skin.
To learn more about lymphedema and explore your treatment options, contact us at one of our offices in Tamarac, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Coral Springs, or Hollywood, Florida.