Lymphedema

Robert Ashley, an internist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles has written an article explaining that techniques of massage can help with lymphedema.

Lymphedema causes pain and swelling that is very uncomfortable to the patient and can be a very difficult condition to treat.  The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and circulates lymph, a clear fluid that contains waste products from proteins rather than circulating blood.  These waste products are cells, including white blood cells and sometimes bacteria.  The lymph nodes filter out the lymph of infection and possible cancer cells.  Eventually the lymph drains upward toward the heart then returns back into the bloodstream.  If the lymphatic system is disrupted, it can lead to lymphedema, which is the swelling of an arm or leg that is caused by stagnant fluid within the limb.

These disruptions can occur because of an infection or cancer in the lymph nodes or radiation therapy.  It can also be because of node removal as part of cancer treatment or due to none of these causes.  Lymphedema is a condition that is often inherited and more likely to occur in the legs.  It is also more common in women.

If you are diagnosed with Stage 1 lymphedema, it is characterized by swelling that can subside if the limb is kept elevated for up to 24 hours, but if not properly treated, Stage 1 lymphedema can develop into Stage 2 or Stage 3 and cause inflammation, infections and scarring of the dermis, which is the thick layer of skin below its surface.  If in Stages 2 and 3 the lymph can’t return to the heart, even if you elevate the legs.

Certain massage techniques can help with lymphedema.  Lymphatic massage is a gentle pressure technique used to move the waste fluids from the damaged area. A physical therapist and certified lymphedema specialist can train patients to perform their own lymphatic massage after surgery.   Lymphatic massage is one technique used to reduce lymphedema.

Before going to get a lymphatic massage, please do your research to be sure the one you are seeing is well qualified and has been trained for lymphatic massage.

Dr Fredda Branyon