Our bodies rely on lymphatic fluid that carries foreign bacteria away from your skin and the tissues beneath. It also circulates cells which assist our immune system in fighting infection.
This fluid flows through our lymphatic system, stopping at points to be filtered through lymph nodes.
When the lymph node, or the channels between them, are damaged or blocked, this fluid can build up under the skin and causes swelling, a condition known as ‘lymphedema’.
There are a number of things which can cause an interference with the natural flow of lymph fluid:
- In surgery, one’s lymph nodes can be damaged by incorrect incisions, or removed entirely. In fact, women who have undergone a mascectomy or surgery due to breast cancer are often found to develop lymphedema due to the subsequent removal of lymph nodes along with other tissues.
- Infection and parasites can cause a blockage in the lymph system, leading to a build-up of lymph fluid. This is particularly common in areas of tropics and sub-tropics such as South America, Asia and the South Pacific.
- Lymphoma, cancer of the lymph node, as well as other cancers which spread to the lymph node can cause a blockage. Radiation therapy can also lead to scar tissue developing which also blocks the flow of lymph fluid.
- Lymphedema can also occur without causal factors such as infection or damage. It can occur from birth (known as congenital lymphedema), it can develop before the age of 36 (most common form) and also after 36 years old (although this is rare).
While there are a number of different ways to treat lymphedema, such as exercises, compression socks and elevation of the limb, one of the most successful ways to treat the condition is through Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD).
The best results can be achieved with a professional practitioner, who has completed specific training in this form of massage. MLD involves the manual stimulation of lymph fluids, to encourage movement and ease the swelling. The massage is very gentle, which reduces the chance of discomfort. The areas normally focused on are the lymph nodes in the neck, groin and armpits.
It’s essential to consult a GP or medical practitioner prior to commencing MLD treatment for the first time, as there are a number of potential contraindications including:
- current cancer diagnosis
- history of cancer
- active/ current bacterial or viral infections
- liver or kidney dysfunction
- deep vein thrombosis
- low blood pressure
- asthma or respiratory issues
- cardiac conditions
Lymphedema can cause great discomfort, but, if correctly performed, the MLD technique is proven to ease swelling and can assist in relieving symptoms of the condition effectively and safely.
Main Image Source: Wellness On Whyte