Date of Award


Document Type

Scholarly Project

Degree Name

Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)


Physical Therapy

First Advisor

Thomas Mohr


Edema; Lymphedema


The terms edema and lymphedema are often used interchangeably but treatment approaches for these forms of swelling differ. The purpose of this paper is to compare the treatments for edema and lymphedema, provide a background in the anatomy of the circulatory system and discuss signs, symptoms, and causes of swelling. Management of edema is directed toward its cause but physical therapy treatment may also be appropriate. Lymphedema remains a risk for years following initial injury, therefore, preventative measures are especially important to address, to decrease the occurrence of cellulitis.

Physical therapy treatment for edema and lymphedema include elevation, compression, exercise, electric stimulation, massage, thermal modalities, and hyaluronidase applied by iontophoresis. The approaches differ in the pressure applied, treatment time, form of wrapping, degree of stimulation and technique. Further research should be performed in the areas of thermal therapy for treating lymphedema, ultrasound for chronic edema and lymphedema treatment and use of human studies to enhance effectiveness of treatment.