Decorative image

Which treatment do you need?

The type of lymphoedema treatment you have depends on how much swelling you have, and which part of your body it affects.

The amount of swelling you have

Mild lymphoedema means there is slight swelling in the area. Your lymphoedema specialist or doctor will tell you about looking after your skin. They will also show you any exercises you need to do. Depending on where you have lymphoedema, they might also suggest a compression garment.

More severe lymphoedema might need treatment from a specialist. This is called intensive treatment. It could include multi-layered bandaging to reduce the swelling. You might have it with or without a specialised type of massage called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). The MLD helps the lymph fluid to drain away from the swollen area.

This intensive treatment usually lasts for a few weeks. Once the swelling has gone down, you wear a compression garment. Your specialist might also teach you how to bandage yourself.

The part of the body affected

The treatment you need will depend on where the lymphoedema is.

Lymphoedema in your head and neck

The main treatment is specialised skin massage called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD).

It's not usually possible to do bandaging in the head and neck area. There are light compression garments for the head. You shouldn't wear anything around your neck.

Your lymphoedema specialist will teach you exercises for your head and neck. You can also wear a special collar that helps to soften the tissues in the area.

Lymphoedema in your chest, trunk, breast or genital area

Depending on the amount of swelling, you might be able to wear compression garments. A good supportive bra can help with breast swelling. For more severe lymphoedema you might need manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). You wear a compression garment once the swelling is under control.

Shapewear or compression pants (cycling pants) can help with genital swelling. Some people might have manual lymphatic drainage (MLD).

Your lymphoedema specialist might also use special tape to help the lymph fluid to drain. Or you might have bandaging if you have severe lymphoedema.

Lymphoedema of your arm or leg

The aim of treatment is to reduce and control the swelling as much as possible so that you can get on with your life as normal.  

You usually wear a compression garment to manage the lymphoedema. You might also have bandaging with or without specialised massage (manual lymphatic draininge) to reduce the swelling. Then you'll need to wear a compression garment to keep the swelling down. 

Your lymphoedema specialist might also use special tape to help the lymph fluid to drain. 

Last reviewed: 
15 Aug 2019
  • Lymphoedema Care
    Woods, M
    Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition)
    Editors: Lisa Dougherty and Sara Lister
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

Information and help