The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) has joined the Australasian Lymphology Association (ALA) in calling for federal government funding.
An estimated one in 6,000 Australians are living with lymphoedema from birth. Additionally, 20 per cent of cancer patients will develop the condition as a result of treatment side effects.
Lymphoedema is the accumulation of fluid in the body, causing uncomfortable swelling, impaired mobility and recurrent infections. It most frequently affects the arms and legs, but can also be present in the groin, head and neck regions.
Primary lymphoedema is a congenital condition in which the lymphatic vessels and nodes are not fully formed, while secondary lymphoedema occurs after damage to the lymphatic system, such as trauma, surgery or radiation therapy (often associated with cancer treatment). The condition is chronic and requires ongoing monitoring and self-management supported by qualified health professionals.
The National Chair of the APA Cancer, Lymphoedema and Palliative Care group, Elise Gane, says providing federal funding and early access to specialist lymphoedema physiotherapy treatment is essential to reduce the significant personal impact and wider socio-economic burden of this condition.
“Physios who treat patients with lymphoedema have good success in helping them relieve discomfort, get better joint movement in the affected area, and become more physically active,” she said. “In particular, lymphoedema-trained physios are expert at managing patients’ lymphatic drainage with compression or massage, and prescribing exercises to help them get back to their normal work, study and physical activity routines, which are so important to overall quality of life.
“Currently there isn’t a standalone Medicare item number for physios to help their patients manage lymphoedema. While public hospital services are good, the majority of people living with lymphoedema cannot access public services easily. A new Medicare service descriptor that allows patients up to 10 sessions of treatment a year with a qualified lymphoedema practitioner would alleviate the stress on the public system and support better health and wellbeing outcomes for patients.”