What is Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition (lasts a sustained period of time) which means that your tissue will swell. While it can affect any part of your body, particularly after surgery, it usually develops in your arms or legs due to the way that gravity pulls the fluid to its lowest extremity.
Is is oedema the same as lymphoedema?
Oedema is usually caused by excess tissue fluid that had not yet returned to the circulatory system. Lymphoedema is swelling caused by excess protein-rich lymph trapped within the tissues. They are slightly different, and you can tell the difference by pressing the skin. If you press your skin and are left with a mark, then this is likely to be oedema. We can still help support patients with oedema with manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), see below.
What are the symptoms of Lymphoedema?
The symptoms of Lymphoedema are mainly swelling. It doesn’t need to be in the entirety of the area, but it will be noticeable enough that fitting in clothing or shoes will be difficult and uncomfortable.
To start with, your swelling may come and go, it will be worse during the day and then overnight, when your body rests and you’re often not wearing such tight clothing in key areas, it will reduce.
However, if Lymphoedema isn’t treated, it usually grows more severe.
Ways to recognise Lymphoedema other than swelling:
*the affected area e.g arm or leg will feel heavy and achy
*difficulty moving the affected area usually an arm or leg
*likely to suffer from problems of repeated infections in the skin around the area, wart-like growths may develop and the fluid may leak through your skin
*the skin will feel hard, and tight, but fold will develop
What are the causes of Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema occurs when the lymph system is overloaded, restricted or damaged. This is a network of tiny, delicate vessels that sit just under the surface of your skin.
Unlike the heart, they don’t have a pump, and the fluid moves through them via movement of our body and water. Their purpose is to fight infection and drain excess fluid from our tissue.
There is primary and secondary Lymphoedema.
Primary Lymphoedema is caused by faulty genes. Basically your lymphatic system just didn’t develop properly although it may develop at any age through to early adulthood.
Secondary Lymphoedema is caused when we damage the lymphatic system, e.g. through surgery (including plastic surgery) or not drinking enough water, or moving enough. It may also be caused by infection, cancer treatment or inflammation.
Is there a cure for Lymphoedema?
There is no cure for Lymphoedema at the moment, but there are techniques to control the symptoms. This involves minimising the accumulation of fluid and stimulating your lymphatic system via a manual lymphatic drainage massage so that your body is better able to deal with the build up itself.
What does Cellulitis have to do with Lymphoedema?
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection in a deep layer of your skin. It is often a cause or effect of Lymphoedema. You should get checked out for Cellulitis if you experience:
*redness and heat in the skin in the area
*pain and increased swelling
*if you have a fever or high temperature
*experiencing the chills
What are the causes of secondary Lymphoedema?
Secondary Lymphoedema is where you’ve always had a perfectly normal lymphatic system, and then something happens and that all changes.
*Surgery for cancer, not limited to, but often; breast cancer, melanoma (skin cancer), gynaecological cancers, genitourinary cancers.
*Following radiotherapy which can damage healthy as well as cancerous tissue.
*Infections e.g. filariasis or cellulitis because it damages skin tissue at the site
*Inflammation, particularly rheumatoid arthritis and eczema
*Venous diseases, fluid accumulates then overflows from our veins and causes swelling e.g. deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and varicose veins.
*Obesity, possibly because the excess tissue damages the fragile lymphatic system and prevents fluid from flowing freely.
*Trauma and injury e.g. after a road traffic accident where there is substantial damage to tissue in the form of bruising
*Immobility because movement is a key factor in keeping the lymphatic system healthy
How do they treat Lymphoedema?
There is a care plan which is a technique called decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT) which comprises of four components which can positively affect the swollen areas:
1. Compression bandages and garments
2. Skin care
3. DLT Exercises to use your affected muscles and improve the lymph drainage through them
4. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) which is a specialised massage technique that stimulates the flow of fluid through your lymphatic system and thus reduces the swelling. This is how Essential Feeling can help you.
Decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT) is an intensive treatment therapy which includes MLD as often as daily at first. It is at this point that you will have manual lymphatic drainage massage (MLD) which is a light touch pumping action to move the fluid along.
This stage will last for several weeks until your body is recovered enough to be able to manage the reduction of swelling unaided. At this point, you may want to reduce the frequency of your MLD massages as you’re more able to move around and add exercise into your programme of recovery.
What is a manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) massage and is it a treatment for Lymphoedema?
A manual lymphatic drainage massage (MLD) is usually carried out by a specialist therapist, trained in the art of moving fluid from the swollen areas into your lymph nodes. They’ll then pump the lymph nodes which easily become full during this process so that they don’t become congested.
Below are some popular questions we’re asked
What causes Lymphoedema?
We’ve covered this above, but we tend to work with clients who have had surgery and are on their recovery path. This includes plastic surgery such as liposuction, tummy tucks and Brazilian butt lifts, and recovery from cancer treatments.
How do you treat Lymphoedema in legs?
This is one of the biggest issues if you are not recovering from surgery. The best way is not to sit too much as Lymphoedema will develop if we’re not active enough, so instead to keep moving. We know it’s not that easy, this whole situation turns into a self fulfilling prophecy as Lymphoedema is a chronic swelling that can often affect your ability to move.
However, as lymphoedema is a swelling caused by damage to your lymphatic system, we would advise not to wear tight fitting underwear if you’re keen on prevention, so as to allow the flow of fluids and to regularly skin brush from your feet up to your groin. Drinking water is also important.
Obviously a lot of these recommendations aren’t always possible for everyone, which is why MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) is such an important therapy.
Is Lymphoedema a form of cancer?
No. It is a side effect of the treatment for many forms of cancer, e.g. breast cancer so while cancer may be related to some forms of Lymphoedema it isn’t the cancer itself.
You may be thinking of Lymphoma which is a cancer. This begins in your lymphatic system, as well as your spleen, thymus and bone marrow, hence why people become confused. If you think you have this you should seek the advice and diagnosis from your doctor or health specialist who will give you an assessment and provides tests. This is not something we do at Essential Feeling.
Where are my lymph nodes?
Your lymphatic vessels run throughout your body and connects up the lymph node that are located in your head and neck region. it is common for lymph nodes in these areas to swell, as well as those in your armpits and groin area. They swell when they become overloaded.
How do I book my massage for Lymphoedema?
You can book online, or call or text us so we can find out more about Lymphoedema symptoms that are affecting you. We’re on 07941 668456 when we’ll be happy to discuss your treatment plan with you.
If you know you are going in for surgery, you can book several weeks in advance of your treatment to ensure that you have your slot reserved for when you have someone to bring you if you are unable to drive.
You will need to come to our Lymphoedema clinic in Romford, Essex for our Lymphoedema service. We have appointments available to book 7 days, from 7am to 10pm. Parking is directly outside our treatment rooms and it is free.