What is lymphoedema?
The lymphatic system is an important, but often forgotten, part of our body. Separate to our blood vessels, the lymphatic system is a system of vessels and collection points that are responsible for removing excess fluid, protein and waste products of cellular activity from tissues spaces. The fluid is filtered and then returned to the vascular system. You will see the lymphatic system at work after an injury such as a sprained ankle where the swelling is gradually resorbed after a few days.
Lymphoedema occurs when there is a problem in the system – this may be congenital or the result of damage to the lymph vessels or nodes. It can occur following breast or other cancer treatment where lymph nodes have been removed or damaged. The result is significant swelling, usually of one limb.
Treatment of lymphoedema
Current best practice treatment of lymphedema is to employ a holistic, multidisciplinary approach including:
- Exercise and movement to improve flow of the lymphatics
- Swelling reduction and maintenance using compression and/or massage
- Skin care
- Risk factor reduction eg. Broken skin
- Pain and psychosocial management
Massage and Compression used for lymphedema is very different to traditional massage. The massage technique used is called Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) and when combined with compressive bandaging is known as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).
At Total Physiotherapy, we are fortunate that physiotherapist Gunda Lehmann is trained in this treatment approach.
Sometimes compression garments are used to maintain the reduced swelling.
Gunda Lehmann and physiotherapist Christine Reed are familiar with measurement and referral for some of these garments.
Reference: Lymphoedema Framework. Best Practice for the Management of Lymphoedema