The treatment of patients with lymphedema is still controversial. Combined physical therapy with manual lymph drainage and compression therapy is most frequently used to reduce lymphatic leg swelling. However, objective evidence is rare that this empirical form of treatment has a scientific basis. In a prospective study fluorescence microlymphography and pressure measurements in cutaneous lymph capillaries were used to assess objectively the effect of combined decongestive physical therapy on abnormal microlymphatic dynamics in lymphedema. 12 patients with primary and secondary lymphedema were studied before treatment, after 2 weeks of intensive physical therapy and 3 months of continuing compression and ergotherapy. After 2 weeks of intensive manual lymph drainage and compression bandaging (phase 1) microlymphatic hypertension (12.8 ± 5.7 mm Hg) was significantly (p = 0.01) reduced to a mean lymph capillary pressure of 5.9 ± 4.5 mm Hg. More than 3 months later after continuing compression lymph capillary pressure (3.2 ± 5.2 mm Hg) was still significantly (p = 0.03) reduced. Simultaneously the maximum spread of the fluorescent contrast medium in the superficial lymph capillary network decreased significantly (p = 0.01) from 21.3 ± 14.3 to 11.3 ± 4.8 mm. Accordingly the clinical condition improved, and the mean circumferences of the forefoot and ankle were significantly (p& < 0.05) reduced. Combined decongestive physical therapy is an effective treatment for lymphedema which results in a normalization of microlymphatic hypertension and an improvement of the clinical appearance.

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