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Understanding Complete Decongestive Therapy

Lymphedema is a chronic condition characterized by swelling, usually in the arms or legs, due to a compromised lymphatic system. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including surgery, radiation therapy, infection, or genetic disorders. While there is no cure for lymphedema, there are effective ways to manage and reduce its symptoms, one of which is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).

What is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT)?

CDT is a comprehensive treatment approach that consists of two main phases: the Decongestive Phase and the Maintenance Phase. The goal of CDT is to reduce swelling, improve the function of the lymphatic system, and enhance the overall quality of life for individuals living with lymphedema.

Phase I: The Decongestive Phase

The Decongestive Phase is the initial stage of CDT and focuses on reducing the swelling in the affected limb(s) to a normal size while maintaining healthy skin. This phase typically lasts several weeks and involves a combination of techniques, including:

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): A specialized massage technique that helps move lymph fluid from the swollen area to unaffected lymph nodes, where it can be drained from the body.
  • Compression Therapy: The use of compression bandages or garments to help reduce swelling and prevent the re-accumulation of lymph fluid.
  • Exercise: Gentle exercises designed to improve lymphatic flow and muscle function in the affected limb(s).
  • Skin Care: Proper skin care is essential to prevent infections and maintain the health of the skin in the swollen area.

Phase II: The Maintenance Phase

Once the swelling has been reduced to a manageable level in Phase I, the Maintenance Phase begins. The goal of this phase is to maintain the results achieved in Phase I and prevent the re-accumulation of lymph fluid. This phase involves:

  • Continued use of compression garments or wraps to provide ongoing support to the affected limb(s).
  • Regular exercise to promote lymphatic flow and muscle strength.
  • Skin care to prevent infections and maintain healthy skin.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage as needed to manage any flare-ups or changes in swelling.

Duration and Frequency of CDT

The duration and frequency of CDT can vary depending on the individual and the severity of their lymphedema. Some people may only need a few weeks of treatment, while others may require ongoing maintenance therapy. It is important for individuals undergoing CDT to adhere to their treatment plan and follow-up appointments to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Benefits of CDT

CDT offers several benefits for individuals living with lymphedema, including:

  • Reduction in swelling and discomfort
  • Improved range of motion and flexibility in the affected limb(s)
  • Prevention of skin infections and other complications
  • Improved overall quality of life

Success Factors in CDT

The success of CDT depends on several factors, including:

  • Adherence to the treatment plan, including wearing compression garments or wraps as prescribed and following a regular exercise routine.
  • Proper skin care to prevent infections and maintain healthy skin.
  • Regular follow-up appointments with healthcare providers to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.


Complete Decongestive Therapy is a highly effective treatment option for individuals living with lymphedema. By following a comprehensive treatment plan that includes manual lymphatic drainage, compression therapy, exercise, and skin care, individuals can effectively manage their lymphedema and improve their quality of life. If you or someone you know is living with lymphedema, consider exploring CDT as a treatment option with the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider.