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What Causes “Lymphedema” & Chronic Swelling?

Feb 29, 2020

This is the 2nd blog/video in this series, which is all about “lymphedema” and chronic swelling. In the first video, we discussed the role of the lymphatic system, which will help you understand how lymphedema and chronic swelling occur.

Here’s the link to the first post, which is a great starting place: What is “Lymphedema?” (Intro to the Lymphatic System)

And in today’s blog/video, we’re going to go into more detail about the top causes of lymphedema and chronic swelling, which will set the stage for understanding how to treat it (which we’ll discuss in the 3rd blog/video).

When it comes to chronic swelling and lymphedema, the underlying causes can be a bit complex at times…

However, if you’re working with a lymphedema specialist (which I highly recommend), they should be able to help you understand the underlying factors that are contributing to your lymphedema/swelling.

Before viewing the laundry list of top causes, which I’ll explain in more detail in the video, recall from the first video that “lymphedema” and chronic swelling aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Lymphedema refers specifically to the lymphatic system, while swelling can be due to the lymphatic system or the venous system (or a combination of both).

That all being said, let’s look at the top causes of lymphedema and chronic swelling:

Top Causes of Lymphedema & Chronic Swelling

– Cancer Surgery: many cancer surgeries involve the removal of lymph nodes, which can impact the flow of your lymphatic fluid.

– Radiation for Cancer: radiation often follows cancer surgery. The associated scar tissue that develops will often times inhibit the lymph fluid flow.

– Cancer/tumors: many types of cancer can directly put pressure on lymph nodes and lymph vessels.

– Trauma: direct trauma can result in increased swelling, which can become chronic if left untreated.

– Surgeries: major and minor surgeries can also can lymphedema and chronic swelling. In the physical therapy world, many of our clients with orthopedic surgeries (knee, ankle and hip surgeries) develop longstanding swelling. Abdominal surgeries often also cause prolonged swelling and lymphedema.

– Infections: infections can overload your lymphatic system and cause swelling.

– Chronic Venous Insufficiency: I’ll explain this one more in the video and use the drawing to explain. Simply put, if your venous system is overloaded, it will often cause lymphedema as well. 

– Obesity: obesity is associated with increased pressure on the lymphatic system, as well as decreased fluid flow.

How do you treat Lymphedema & Swelling?

Now that you know a bit more about all the common causes of swelling and lymphedema, the next logical question is “how can I get rid of it?”

So glad you asked!

We’ll discuss that topic in the next blog/video (lymphedema post #3), so stay tuned!

And if you’d like more information about lymphedema and lymphedema treatment, visit our lymphedema page at

Thank you! 

– Luke Gordon

Here’s the video 🙂

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