Lymphedema is a condition in which an accumulation of fluid occurs in the tissues due to the lymphatic system’s inability to drain the fluid adequately.
Typically, fluid leaking into the body’s interstitial tissues gets picked up by the lymphatic system and returned to the cardiovascular system. When the lymphatic system cannot drain a sufficient volume of fluid, causing a back-up, it is called lymphedema.
Symptoms of lymphedema include swelling, pain, and aching in the affected limbs, skin changes such as tightness and hardening, and mobility difficulties.
Lymphedema happens for different reasons, including hereditary or congenital abnormalities, trauma, radiation, surgery, infections, inflammation, and venous diseases.
Primary & secondary lymphedema
Primary is hereditary or congenital, where the lymphatic system has abnormalities and cannot function optimally. It can appear anywhere in the body, but often in the legs and arms. Sometimes a person never knows they have the condition, which can be apparent from birth or triggered later in life.
Secondary develops after a trauma, radiation, or surgery, where the lymphatic vessels have been injured or removed.
Secondary lymphedema may be caused by:
- Infection, such as cellulitis or chronic inflammation
- Surgery which damages or removes lymphatic vessels and nodes
- Cancer surgery and radiation
- Inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or eczema
- Venous diseases such as varicose veins and Deep Vein Thrombosis
- Trauma, for instance, where there is extensive soft tissue damage
Lymphedema is unpredictable and may never happen – or you wake up one day and suddenly it’s there. People often don't know what triggers the swelling to start.
For example, post-mastectomy, swelling can appear around two years after surgery. Many of my clients report that one day they noticed swelling in their hand or elbow that doesn't go away. Again, some people may have lymphedema show up 25 years later – or never in their lifetime.
So what happened? Why has this swelling appeared?
Possible reasons include overuse of the affected limb. For example, gardening may lead to a surplus of fluid in the affected arm or leg that over-taxes the lymph system to drain into a limb with fewer lymph nodes. The buildup causes swelling, pain, and other symptoms common with lymphedema.
Other common causes that trigger primary and secondary lymphedema include:
- Long flights
- Extreme heat
- Cuts and bites
Of course, every case is different, but a typical treatment plan would include lymphatic massage to the area and redirecting fluid in the body, lymphatic taping, and possibly suggesting a garment to compress the area.
Symptoms of lymphedema
Regardless of the cause of lymphedema, a damaged lymphatic system leads to protein-rich fluid accumulating in tissue, potentially leading to:
- Swelling and pain
- Aching and heavy feeling limbs
- Difficulty with movement of the limb
- Skin changes
How is lymphedema treated?
Manual Lymphatic Drainage
If you have lymphedema and already wear a compression garment, I can provide maintenance with lymphatic massage (MLD).
MLD helps move fluid out of the affected area, decreasing pain and inflammation, helping keep your limbs mobile and addressing any additional concerns you have.
Please note that I do not offer bandaging or garment fitting services.
While traditionally done with bandages, compression garments are more reliable. Bandages typically loosen up to 50% the same day bandaging is performed. While more expensive, an off-the-shelf or custom-made compression garment guarantees a perfect fit.
In Ontario, the Assisted Device Program (ADP) will cover up to 75% of the cost of a garment.
Find Relief from Lymphedema Symptoms with MLD Massage
If you suspect you may have lymphedema, consult with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and develop a personalized treatment plan. With MLD massage and treatment, individuals with lymphedema can improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of complications.