Oedema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in the body’s tissues.
It has been suggested that when a limb becomes more inactive, fluid can often build up commonly in the hands, arms, legs, feet and ankles. This is often more prominent on the affected side post stroke due to the inactivity (Artzberger 2005)
Swelling in the hand:
At times swelling can be isolated to just the hands, particularly following a stroke. This in addition can result in pain and stiffness. Compression garments (LINK) and massage are often used to help reduce the swelling in addition to: elevating the arm, passive ranging, light retrograde massage and use of the limb in functional day to day tasks as much as is possible.
Swelling in the arm:
To help encourage reduction of swelling as well as prevent further build up it is important to position the arm correctly particularly if you have little function. If you are using a wheelchair you may be recommended to use a tray (LINK) or pillow to support your arm, if you are in bed you may be provided with pillows to support your arm. This will not only help minimise further swelling but will also support in cases of shoulder subluxation (link page) and help encourage visual awareness of the limb (link page).
Swelling in the legs:
The best way to treat this is with mobilisation of the legs, elevating them above the level of the heart when sitting or lying, and using compression socks (LINK) to push the fluid out.
If you have been immobile for some time prior to mobilising, then do check with your doctor to exclude any blood clot in the veins of the leg as this could be dangerous.
Artzberger S. (2005) A critical analysis of edema control techniques. American Occupational Therapy Association, Special Interest Section Quarterly, 28(2):1-4.