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Get Moving Again

Posted on October 14, 2021 in Patient Stories

Physical Therapy at Fort Sanders Regional Helps Patients with Lymphedema

Charles Mitchell on the job
Charles Mitchell checks out a solar panel near Strawberry Plains while on the job. Mitchell says he’s able to get a lot more done since getting his lymphedema under control.

Imagine carrying two gallons of water everywhere, every waking moment. That’s what life was like for Charles Mitchell. Lymphedema had caused swelling in his legs that made everyday living tiresome and slow.

“You can imagine having two gallons of water attached to your legs and trying to walk around, how that would tire you out,” Mitchell says. “It’s hard to walk any distance at all, especially going upstairs or up any incline.”

Lymphedema, a type of swelling in the arms and legs, is the result of a blockage in the lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune system. When there’s blockage, lymph fluid can’t drain the way it should, so fluid builds up and swelling happens.

There is no cure for lymphedema, but with early diagnosis and the right care, it can be managed. For Mitchell, the right care came from Covenant Health Therapy Center – Downtown, a department of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Mitchell found out about this therapy option in a rather roundabout way.

Diagnosed with mesothelioma, Mitchell was undergoing treatment at Thompson Cancer Survival Center. It was at a regular appointment after having the usual checklist of things taken care of that his oncologist asked if he was getting around okay.

Charles Mitchell
“I wish more people knew about it.” Charles Mitchell is sharing his story to let people who suffer from lymphedema know it can often be managed with physical therapy.

Mitchell mentioned the lymphedema. It wasn’t connected to the mesothelioma and it didn’t fall within the parameters of care at Thompson for his particular case, but that didn’t keep the oncologist from offering a ray of hope.

“She was so helpful, she was concerned about me being able to get around and to exercise during my treatment,” Mitchell says. “She said they had an excellent clinic across the street.”

That clinic across the street was Covenant Health Therapy Center – Downtown. Kendra Goodwin, PTA, CLT, is certified to treat lymphedema there.

“As a physical therapist assistant, I help patients decrease their swelling and improve skin integrity to better improve their function and confidence so they can manage the condition long term,” Goodwin says. “So many people come to me who haven’t worn certain shoes or pants for a long time, and wearing those items are a goal for them. Lymphedema treatment can help patients meet these goals and assist with self-confidence.

“Through our continued work together I build strong bonds with my patients, and it’s really rewarding for me to see their progress.”

Certified lymphedema therapists complete 135 hours of lymphedema training and pass a certification exam. To retain their certification, they have to keep their knowledge current with continuing education.

At his first appointment, Mitchell’s condition was fully assessed, and a personalized treatment plan was devised. Goodwin started Mitchell on a program of exercise to improve is circulation.

She also used manual lymphatic drainage to help drain lymphatic fluid and applied short stretch bandages that pushed back against the swelling.

“With lymphedema, you get halfway through what you think you need to be doing and you’re just too exhausted to go on,” Mitchell says. “Wearing those wraps, you can go all day long.”

As Mitchell went through the physical therapy program, he received training to understand how to manage his lymphedema symptoms on his own. “They trained me to do the wrapping,” Mitchell says. “They gave me some other compression stockings and they set me up with a company that does lymphedema equipment.”

By the end of his treatment, Mitchell’s lymphedema was finally under control. Since then, he’s become more active, he’s lost a lot of weight, and day-to-day living has become easier.

Mitchell no longer has to be an unwilling victim of lymphedema because he has the tools to fight back. He has learned to wear wraps and compression socks and to do special exercises that alleviate symptoms. Set free from the weight of the fluid that encompassed his legs, Mitchell now wants to spread the word to other lymphedema sufferers that physical therapy can make a big difference.

“They were just ever so helpful and friendly and accommodating,” Mitchell says, “and I’m telling you it’s life-changing.”

Physical therapy for lymphedema can help patients avoid other problems such as skin changes, skin breakdown and infection in addition to improving physical movement. For information about how physical therapy may be able to help those who suffer from lymphedema, call Covenant Health Therapy Center – Downtown at (865) 331-1300.