Lymphoedema is swelling of the tissues. It is caused by problems in the way the tissue drain fluid. It is most likely to happen after surgery in patients who have had previous surgery, those who have an infection in the neck following their operation, and those who have had radiotherapy. The tissues are swollen with soft pitting oedema (indentation when pressed) and can sometimes be red and warm without the presence of infection.
The swelling can take a year to settle and is particularly slow to get better if the surgery is followed by radiotherapy. The swelling is usually worse first thing in the morning because of lying flat over night. During the day the swelling goes down by the effect of gravity.
There are techniques to try and break down the fibrous reaction by using connective tissue release exercise and simple lymphatic massage. Also sleeping more upright helps to aid drainage. On occasion a compression garment can be fitted to the head and neck region at night to help promote drainage.
There is a lymphoedema service and often this is available through the local palliative care team (Macmillian Clinical Specialist in Lymphoedema).
Please get in touch with the Clinical Nurse Specialists in Head and Neck if you want more information or referrral to a Lymphoedema Service.