Combined Decongestive Therapy

Also known as complex decongestive therapy, combined decongestive therapy is an intensive program combining different treatment approaches such as manual lymphatic drainage, skin care, bandaging, compression garments, exercise and self-care. Studies show that CDT is effective for improving lymphedema symptoms including swelling and pain.

Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid in a part of the body which causes swelling. There is no cure for lymphedema; it can, however, be controlled.

Primary lymphedema is a rare inherited condition caused by problems with the development of the lymphatic vessels in the body.

Secondary lymphedema is caused by injury, scarring, infection, or lymph node removal. It is often due to radiation and/or surgery on lymph nodes in the neck, axilla, pelvis or groin following cancer of the breast, uterus, bladder, ovary, prostate or testicle, malignant melanomas, and lymphomas.

An effective form of treatment for lymphedema used by qualified therapists is Combined Decongestive Therapy which consists of five components:

  1. Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapy: light hand techniques performed by a qualified therapist (CDT) to stimulate and improve the functioning of the lymphatic vessel system to encourage the movement of lymph fluids from swollen areas back into the bloodstream. At times, this entails rerouting lymph fluid into existing pathways to optimize flow to the bloodstream.

  2. Proper Skin Care to maintain clean, healthy skin and avoiding trauma or injury which may lead to infection.

  3. Compression Therapy to reduce the size and density of edema through the use of compression wrapping. Once the swelling and edema are improved, compression garments are utilized according to need.

  4. Exercise to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility and aerobic exercise to enhance lymphatic flow.

  5. Education to understand the importance of self care and self manual lymphatic drainage techniques, and to use and apply compression bandages and garments.