Lymphedema is the pooling of lymph fluid, due to an obstruction or blockage of the lymphatic system. The lymph vessels drain the fluid from tissues throughout the body and allow immune cells to travel where they are needed. A blockage may occur due to illness, damage or removal of the vessels or nodes of the system.*
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is chronic swelling, usually of the extremities, limb or area where the obstruction has occurred. Other symptoms include a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the area, restricted range of motion, increased occurrence of infection and hardening or thickening of the skin. Some may also see a change in texture in the tissues of the affected area, such as an ‘orange-peel’ like effect where the fluid pools.
What treatment can help lymphedema?
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a physical therapy technique that is aids the natural drainage of the lymph fluid. The technique includes gentle massage in the area of the healthy lymph nodes, followed by a technique that is a gentle, circular, stretching of the skin motion that aims to push fluid out of the area of swelling, across to the healthy lymph nodes. It is quite different to normal muscular massage and is a slow and gentle technique. Other treatments include compression, range of motion exercises and in some extreme cases, surgery.
What can I do to help reduce lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a chronic disease that usually requires lifelong management. In some cases, lymphedema improves with time however, some swelling is often permanent. Drinking lots of water can aid flushing of the fluids, wearing compression socks or sleeves and elevating the affected area above heart height will all help reduce swelling. Gentle exercise such as walking, breathing exercises, self-drainage techniques and specific corrective exercises to the affected area may be prescribed by your physical therapist.
*If vessels or nodes have been removed due to surgery it is recommended you consult a MLD Vodder Technique specialist.
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