What is Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a swelling that can occur in any part of the body, although it is most commonly seen in legs or arms. If the lymph system is under developed or is damaged or becomes blocked there is a build up of fluid, protein and toxins in the surrounding area. The limb will become swollen and will feel heavy and can often ache. The skin will become dry and thickened and can also dis-colour. It can occur for different reasons and is classified as either Primary or Secondary Lymphoedema depending on the cause.
Primary Lymphoedema is either congenital or spontaneous, it is a result of an inherited abnormality or an inefficient functioning of the lymphatic and venous system, which can be present from birth or can develop in young adulthood or even later in life
This can occur following treatment for cancer, radiation therapy, surgery, trauma or recurrent infections, where lymph nodes/lymph vessels may have been removed or damaged.
As a consequence of Lymphoedema, there is a build up of fluid which can worsen if left untreated over time. This in turn can lead to complications such as cellulitus and skin changes. Where there is a swelling from the damaged area the Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) treatment will encourage the re-direction of the lymph fluid to the nearest healthy lymph nodes.
If any part of the lymphatic system becomes damaged due to surgery (e.g. for cancer), trauma, burns or infection, lymph circulation becomes compromised, fluid stagnates, proteins, cells and toxins accumulate, cellular functioning becomes significantly compromised and lymphoedema occurs.
How is Lymphoedema treated?
The treatment of lymphoedema is usually treated in two phases:
Phase 1 is the decongestive stage which involves an intensive period of both MLD and compression bandaging. The sessions are daily for 2 – 4 weeks depending on the severity of the condition. This also includes skin care and exercises.
Phase 2 is the maintenance stage in which treatment may vary from once weekly to once monthly depending on the individual case. This is combined with compression hosiery.
For non-lymphoedema cases the treatment will vary according to the condition.