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Focus Stories

Integumentary Physiotherapy Clinic 2021

by Jill Cousins

Featured Photo from Integumentary Physiotherapy Clinic 2021

Many people who suffer from lymphedema think their situation is hopeless. The condition involves swelling of the limbs, often resulting from damage to the lymph nodes caused by cancer treatment (secondary lymphedema), but it can also be genetic (primary lymphedema).

Even though lymphedema cannot be cured, the good news is Dr. Nilma Z. Elias Santiago can help. She opened the Integumentary Physiotherapy Clinic in January 2020 with the specific goal of providing treatment for people with lymphedema and chronic wounds. Dr. Santiago’s office is located in the Regency Medical Center building in Altamonte Springs.

“So many of my patients with lymphedema tell me that they’ve been to so many physicians, who tell them that nothing can be done,” Dr. Santiago says. “And that’s not necessarily true. You don’t have to live with a limb that’s swollen and painful and heavy and cosmetically ugly. You can have a great quality of life.”

Dr. Santiago’s treatment program, called Complete Decongestive Therapy, involves four phases: manual lymphatic drainage massage (which helps drain the fluids and toxins from the lymphatic system), compression therapy, specific abdominal breathing exercises, and skincare. Patients receive treatment two-to-three times a week for six-to-12 weeks, depending on the severity of the condition.

Most patients see a difference after just a couple of treatments. They are also given instructions for things they can do at home, such as the use of a lymphedema pump that mimics the drainage massage done by Dr. Santiago, as well as the wearing of compression garments, such as stockings, socks, and Velcro wraps. Patients are also given an exercise program to follow.

“I tell people, this is like having high blood pressure,” Dr. Santiago says. “You can take a pill to control it, but you will always be diagnosed with high blood pressure. It’s the same with lymphedema. You may have it forever, but we can help you manage it.”

Among Dr. Santiago’s many success stories are a 92-year-old woman who no longer needed a walker after receiving treatment for her legs, and a man who had bought an expensive pair of shoes on a cruise ship that he couldn’t fit on his feet until Dr. Santiago’s treatment reduced the extreme swelling.

“People with lymphedema cannot do so many of the simple things in life that people take for granted, and it’s sad,” Dr. Santiago says. “I want those people to know there is hope. There is something that can be done, and it’s what I do. Please give me a call.”


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