“Edema” is a scientific word that refers to swelling. It is typically caused by fluid retention in the tissues surrounding the blood vessels and is the body’s natural response to an injury.
Although it is a natural response, if left too long without intervention, prolonged edema can lead to other issues. When the root cause of edema is known, the appropriate intervention can be implemented. Below are some techniques that your therapist may use or teach you to help manage edema after an injury or surgery:
- RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
- Movement – As long as your physician has not advised against movement (in the case of a fracture, for example), gentle movement that is not painful is essential in moving the fluid from the injured area back toward the heart. This also helps to prevent stiffness.
- Heat – After 72 hours, heat can be applied to dilate the vessels which helps improve blood flow to the injured area.
- Contrasting hot/cold – Alternating temperatures helps to dilate and constrict the vessels. This helps to remove old fluid out of the injured area and bring new fluid to the area to speed healing.
- Limit painful activities – Pain is a natural defense mechanism that helps to prevent the body from further injury. Listening to your body and avoiding painful activity can help avoid further irritation.
Your Physical Therapist will assess your edema thoroughly. Many things are considered when creating an edema control plan. Interventions should be monitored closely for effectiveness.