What is lymphoedema?

Swelling and fluid retention is known as lymphoedema. Lymphoedema can occur in almost any part of the body but is especially common in the arms and legs.

Lymphoedema can be due to unknown causes; however, as we get older our bodies are more susceptible to this problem. A lot of my older patients complain of ankle swelling not realising that it could be a mild lymphoedema. Another significant cause of lymphoedema is after surgical removal of lymph vessles, which may be necessary in some cancer patients. Women who have undergone surgery and radiotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer are particularly susceptible.

The lymphatic system can become dysfunctional when, just like a blocked drain, there is more lymph entering the system rather than draining out. When a blockage occurs and the lymphatic vessels can’t drain properly, lymphoedema is the end result.  In extreme cases this can be quite painful and can also predispose to skin conditions such as ulcers and cellulitis.

What is the lymphatic system?

Your lymphatic system is a part of your circulation (just like your veins are arteries are). It is a network of tubes that transports a watery liquid called lymph.  Lymph consists of immune cells, proteins and also circulating fats. Your lymphatic system functions to return proteins into the blood circulatory system which helps with fluid balance in our body. It also plays an important role in transporting immune cells to where they are required to fight infection or disease.

How can lymphatic massage help you?

Lymphatic massage works to relieve lymphoedema by reducing swelling and improving mobility. It can also help to remove toxins from the body thereby improving your overall health and wellbeing. Sometimes compression bandages or garments might be used in conjunction with massage.

Lymphatic massage is a whole body massage. It is performed with extremely light pressure. It works to open all the lymphatic vessels of the body to allow lymph to drain back into your circulatory system. The objective is to drain fluids away from the affected area and move them to other areas of the body where the lymphatic system is functioning. The massage is always in the direction of lymph flow – towards the body.  The trunk is always emptied first followed by the limbs. This is done so as to make a clear pathway for the lymph to drain into once it is cleared from the blocked area.

Whilst there is no absolute cure for lymphoedema, with a healthy diet, regular massage and assistance of compression garments, lyphmoedema can be effectively managed.

by Lucy Corradi