Is Your Swelling Truly Just Swelling?

ice pack

What is swelling?

Swelling is an accumulation of fluid in a body part that causes an enlargement of that area. Swelling is most often referred to as edema which is an accumulation of water throughout the body. This type of swelling will typically present in the lower extremities, with the foot and ankle being the worst. Both lower extremities will be affected equally when it is truly edema. A doctor typically will educate the patient to reduce sodium (salt) within their diet and may also prescribe a diuretic. Compression stockings will still be recommended but medication and change in diet typically reduces edema when it truly is an accumulation of water. So what happens if it isn’t just an accumulation of water?

Types of Swelling:

An accumulation of water is not the only fluid that can cause swelling in the body. Swelling can also occur from an accumulation of protein, fat or a blockage present in the abdominal/pelvic region. Lymphedema is an accumulation of protein within the lymphatic fluid. Lipedema is an accumulation of fat within the lymphatic fluid. Pelvic Congestion Syndrome is diagnosed when a blockage in the iliac or pelvic veins/arteries is present. These types of swelling differ not only in the cause of swelling but also in the treatment. Below, these types of swelling are explained, compared, and differences in treatment described.

swelling chart

So what is the difference?

Although all of these diagnoses require compression to manage, lymphedema responds best to compression, lipedema responds best to Aquatic Therapy, and ultimately Pelvic Congestion Syndrome requires a surgical correction. By seeing a Certified Lymphedema Therapist, a plan of care will be developed to best address the type of swelling that you truly have. This allows for quicker, more effective treatment of your swelling.

If you or a loved one suffers from swelling, set up a FREE 30- minute consultation with one of our licensed Physical Therapists to find out how therapy can help!

Written by Cassie Wooters, PT, DPT, CLT-ALM- Physical Therapist at our Easton office and Certified Lymphedema Therapist.


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