Head & Neck Lymphedema

lymph nodes head and neckHEAD & NECK LYMPHEDEMA

Swelling in the head and neck is often a side effect of cancer treatments in this area, such as thyroid cancer, soft tissue sarcoma or others. Some studies claim as high as 75.3% of head and neck cancer patients will suffer some lymphedema as a result of treatments. Lymphedema is a chronic swelling that can result from damage to the lymphatic system in this area. Furthermore, interference with the flow of lymphatic fluid can build up lymphatic fluid. This is commonly seen in the neck and under the chin, however it can also occur in the face and inside the mouth and throat.

Head and neck lymphedema can cause difficulty with breathing, speaking, neck mobility and swallowing. In particular, it can alter one’s appearance which can be quite distressing.


Removal of lymph nodes, radiation to the affected area and surgery itself can all lead to this damage of the lymph system. However, there are some things you can do to minimize the effects of lymphedema or possibly avoid it all together. Injury and infection can cause local inflammation, which can increase lymphatic load in the area. Maintaining a healthy body weight and getting regular exercise helps to reduce the risk of lymphedema. Ergonomic sitting positions can prevent tightening of the neck and shoulders and reducing restriction of lymphatic flow. Sleeping with the head elevated to allow gravity to assist in lymphatic flow can be beneficial. Wearing loose, non-restrictive clothing around the neck helps to prevent the restriction of lymph flow. Moreover, the use of compression garments immediately after surgery can help reduce swelling and possibly prevent swelling from transitioning into lymphedema.


Early intervention for lymphedema can help to limit the disease and it is most effectively treated earlier and in milder cases. Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) provided by a certified lymphedema therapist has proven to be the most effective treatment for lymphedema. This treatment includes manual lymphatic drainage, compression (bandages and/or garments), exercise and skin care.


Compression garments are a main component of treating and managing head and neck lymphedema. At The Compression Closet, we offer a couple of different choices for head and neck compression depending on your needs.

SIGVARIS NECK & MANDIBLE PADSigvaris neck-mandible compression garment

Sigvaris neck and mandible pad provides 15-20mmHg of mild compression for lymphedema in the neck and lower face. The conforming design and materials ensure a comfortable fit. Easily adjustable straps wrap around the top and back of the head, and feature durable medical grade hook and loop material. The four-way stretch fabric contains moisture-wicking, odor control properties, and is latex free. This garment is a bit bulky but more afordable than other neck and head compression garments. Your therapist will likely recommend use of this garment, but it is most often worn at night or while resting so the size of the garment may not be an issue for some.


JoviPak Chin Strap - ExtendedJoViPak makes two different styles of head and neck compression. Although these garments are more expensive they tend to be less bulky and more comfortable to wear. The JoViPak Chin Strap (standard) addresses edema of the neck, mandible, and the anterior/lateral aspects of the face (partially covers the ears). The open neck seam accommodates your choice of padding. The Jovi Universal Pad is designed to work with the standard chin strap. The foam chips in the Universal Pad help to break up lymphatic fluid and move it out. Velcro straps at the neck and top of head are adjustable.

JoViPak Chin Strap (extended) addresses edema of the neck, mandible, and the lateral aspects of the face. This garment covers the ear, the lateral aspect of the head, and behind the ear. Velcro straps at the neck and top of the head are adjustable. Use JoViPak Chin Strap (extended) with JoViPak Peri-Auricular neck pad for best results.


The key to long-term management of your head and neck lymphedema is to work closely with your lymphedema therapist and medical team. They can best guide you in home management treatment and needed compression garments. Most importantly they can help improve the quality of your life with appropriate care.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.


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