Lymphedema Massage

Question:

I am in therapy for lymphedema in my arm that developed after surgery. I am coming to the end of therapy and need instructions on self lymphedema massage. Can you please explain Lymphedema and Lymphatic drainage? And can you suggest any schools or hospitals in the D.C. area that teach self-massage?

Answer:

Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid that can collect in any body part, but most typically in arms or legs. It usually occurs when the lymph vessels or lymph nodes are blocked or removed. The lymphatic system is part of the body's circulatory system and a vital part of the immune system. The lymphatic system runs parallel with the veins and removes cellular waste, bacteria, proteins and excess water from the tissues. The lymphatic system is also the prime vehicle for the immune system, managing foreign bodies and immune cells.

When lymph nodes or pathways are insufficient, damaged or removed through surgery, lymph fluid cannot progress through the body. Thus, the surrounding tissue swells, thickens and becomes painful. Bacteria in this environment can multiply and greatly increase the risk of infection. Fibrosis (excess connective tissue growth) can occur causing stiffness, and limiting movement and range of motion.

With early identification and proper intervention the condition can be treated and controlled, allowing the individual to lead a full and normal life.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage: this type of massage stimulates nearby lymphatic channels to allow flow of fluid from the affected area.

What is the treatment protocol for this condition?

  1. Evaluation: includes education regarding the precautions and warning signs of lymphedema.
  2. Lymphatic Drainage Massage (described above): A unique form of manual therapy.
  3. Low Stretch Compression Bandaging: Facilitates lymph flow and prevents refilling of the limb between treatment sessions, while encouraging the skin and underlying tissues to reshape over time.
  4. An exercise program (used with compression bandaging): can enhance lymphatic drainage and also restore strength, flexibility, endurance and function; a specialization especially suited to occupational therapy.
  5. Patient Education: in skin care, self massage, exercise and precautions.

Please refer to the Massage Therapy 101 website, for links to educational material, tapes or books and self care techniques. As for schools in the DC area that teaches Lymphatic massage, I am not familiar with any, however, most schools and massage associations can be very helpful with additional information.

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