What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs and occasionally in the trunk. The condition develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are impaired, damaged, or removed.
There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema is rare and is caused by the absence or abnormalities of the lymphatic system at birth, with swelling present at birth or not occurring until later in life.
The majority of lymphedema is known as a secondary lymphedema. These occur as a result of damage or removal of the lymphatic vessels or nodes. Common causes of secondary lymphedema are from an infection, malignancy, surgery, scar tissue formation, trauma, deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in a vein), radiation, or other cancer treatments.
Lymphedema has no cure but can be successfully managed when properly diagnosed and treated. Early diagnosis is important since treatment is most effective when lymphedema is diagnosed at the earliest stage. Left untreated, lymphedema leads to chronic inflammation, infection and hardening of the skin that, in turn, results in further lymph vessel damage and distortion of the shape of affected body parts.
Signs and symptoms of Lymphedema
- Heaviness or tightness in limb or trunk
- Aching in limb or shoulder
- Restricted range of motion
- Fingers may feel puffy and rings may feel tight
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Treatment for Lymphedema
Lymphedema is a disease and unfortunately there is no cure due to the permanent damage to or absence of lymphatic components. However, effective treatment for lymphedema management is available.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a light massage therapy technique in which the skin is moved in specific directions based on the structure of the lymphatic system. MLD techniques are designed to improve the activity of the lymph vessels and increase the movement of lymph and interstitial fluid from a compromised to an uncompromised part of the body. We use manual lymphatic mapping to re-route the lymph flow around the blocked or absent nodes and vessels into more centrally located lymph vessels that drain into the venous system.
Lymphedema Treatment is Very Specialized
Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLT) have a minimum of 140 hours of training in this specialized modality. If you suffer from lymphedema, you must be sure that your therapist is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist. Without this specialized training, manual lymphatic drainage could be completely ineffective, or worse: may increase or shift your edema to another part of your body.
Dave Henderson is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT), trained in Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), and a nationally certified Therapist for Massage & Bodywork (NCTMB), licensed in the State of North Carolina.