Head and Neck Lymphedema

 

While Lymphedema most commonly occurs in the extremities, it can occur in other regions such as the head and neck region, the breast and chest region or the genital region. There are 2 types of Lymphedema- primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema is hereditary and occurs due to a problem when forming the lymphatic system. Secondary Lymphedema develops if the lymphatic system is damaged due to a surgery, accident or pre-existing condition.

Prevalence of Head and Neck Lymphedema

This article will focus on head and neck lymphedema.– As mentioned above, Lymphedema can be hereditary in any part of the body. More commonly head and neck Lymphedema develops after some form of cancer treatment. Radiation and biopsies in this region can both lead to the development of Lymphedema. The head and neck region are full of lymph nodes making it very difficult to avoid during radiation or cancer biopsies.

While head and neck cancer patients make up a very low percentage of cancer patients, the prevalence of developing Lymphedema amongst these head and neck cancer patients is extremely high– sitting at about 50%.

Early detection and intervention of Lymphedema in the head and neck region is critical. If left untreated, the patient may begin to experience difficulty breathing, speaking and swallowing. The swelling begins in the internal structures such as the larynx and pharynx and gradually comes to the surface and becomes more visible.

Prevention of Head and Neck Lymphedema

As with all types of Lymphedema, it is important to be educated on practices that can help to avoid developing Lymphedema. It is important to avoid injuries, cuts, bruises and bites in the affected area, as these things can trigger the onset of Lymphedema or trigger a flare up in someone who already has Lymphedema. Other important prevention practices are–

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Sleep with upper body slightly raised

Treatment of Head and Neck Lymphedema

Treatment of head and neck Lymphedema is based on Complete Decongestive Physiotherapy. The most important components of Decongestive Physiotherapy for head and neck Lymphedema patients is Manual Lymph Drainage and Compression Wear.

Manual Lymph Drainage is a light, manual therapy which assists the flow of Lymph fluid from the affected area back into the lymphatic system.

Another important component of Decongestive Physiotherapy is Compression Wear. There are plenty of options of Compression Wear to suit the patient’s needs including custom sizing and fitting for the patient. Compression Wear is extremely important for head and neck patients to maintain the reduced swelling achieved through Manual Lymph Drainage.

If you or someone you know is experiencing swelling that sounds similar to this, please contact us right away to work towards a plan of care.