Lymphoedema therapy could be seen as an umbrella term that refers to so much more than manual lymphatic drainage. It sits within a larger system of training called lymphology; a branch of medical science concerning lymphatic related functions, mechanisms and pathophysiology.
While the hands-on component of lymphoedema therapy looks and feels quite similar to lymphatic drainage that is applied for general wellbeing (or for people who are otherwise well), hands-on treatment within the lymphoedema setting is unique in a number of ways.
The primary aim of Lymphoedema therapy is to reduce oedema, lymphoedema and associated concerns. Treatment methodology will vary according to the degree of lymphatic obstruction and management strategies aim to restore optimum cellular, tissue and body health when the lymphatic system has been damaged by the likes of traumatic injury, surgery, and treatment for cancer.
Treatment objectives are usually to decrease swelling and associated pain and to increase mobility and a sense of self-empowerment with a range of self-help exercises and home care routines.
Lymphoedema therapy refers to a range of treatment methods, including manual lymphatic drainage, scar tissue therapy and the application of compression garments, lymph taping and bandaging (combined decongestive therapy) where required.
Lymphoedema refers to the accumulation of protein rich fluid in the connective tissues. The most apparent symptom is swelling in the affected area. Depending on severity, symptoms may also include pain, loss of mobility, changes in skin appearance and a heightened risk of infection.
Primary lymphoedema is thought to result from the congenital malformation of lymphatic vessels. Secondary (acquired) lymphoedema results from damage to the lymphatic vessels or nodes following infections from insect bites, serious wounds, burns, surgery, serious injury, or radiation treatment. In the West, Secondary Lymphoedema most commonly occurs after treatment for cancer.
While lymphoedema cannot be cured, it can be managed with regular lymphatic drainage, meticulous skincare, a healthy diet, regular exercise and by wearing a compression garment daily.
Cancer rehabilitation and post-traumatic / post-operative oedema
If you have received treatment for cancer you are likely aware of being ‘at risk’ of developing lymphoedema. That risk appears to be higher with extensive surgery (including removal of a large number of lymph nodes) and the application of radiotherapy.
The aims of post-surgical lymphatic drainage are to support recovery by removing cellular debris, toxins and inflammatory mediators away from the area. This reduces pain associated with inflammation, swelling and loss of mobility, and promotes the healthy formation of scar tissue.
Early intervention and surveillance will ensure signs of lymphoedema are detected and treated at an early stage. Research indicates this slows progression of lymphoedema to a more chronic and harder-to-treat stage.
Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT)
Combined Decongestive Therapy may be suitable for individuals with chronic and pronounced lymphoedema. Treatment involves an intensive phase of manual lymphatic drainage and bandaging of the affected region. The aim is to reduce swelling, and to maintain the reduction. Once the intensive phase is complete a compression garment will be fitted and treatment moves into a maintenance phase.
Plastic and cosmetic surgery
Pre and post-operative lymphatic drainage is beneficial for a range of reconstructive and aestheic or cosmetic surgical procedures, including:
breast reduction, reconstruction and enlargement
vein stripping, sclerotherapy and phlebectomy for the treatment of varicose veins
Lipoedema is a congenital disorder affecting the distribution and metabolism of subcutaneous adipose (fatty) tissue. The condition is chronic and progressive. Onset typically occurs after hormonal shifts. Lipoedema is often accompanied by tenderness/pain, and a tendency to bruise easily. Lipoedema is symmetrical and does not affect the hands or feet. Restrictive dieting has been found to have little effect.
Manual lymphatic drainage and compression therapy provide conservative management of lipoedema. The aim is to support the healthy flow of lymphatic fluid, reduce pain and slow the potential progression of lymphatic related symptoms.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)
Chronic venous insufficiency is a circulatory rather than lymphatic issue. However, any chronic accumulation of oedema that is left untreated can lead to impaired lymphatic function. Should this occur, tissues may become 'firm' or ‘fibrotic’ and this would further impede the flow of lymph.
Symptoms of CVI are most commonly observed in the lower leg. Oedema is often accompanied by varicosities (varicose veins), bluish/purple discolouration of the limb and a sensation of heaviness or tension in the affected region. Oedema will worsen with gravity or prolonged periods on the feet, and will improve when legs are elevated.
Conservative treatment includes the prescription of compression garments (knee high is typically indicated) and intermittent manual lymphatic drainage.
Intouch Health supplies a range of medical grade compression garments, to suit the needs of the individual. Garments are either ‘ready to wear’ or ‘custom made’.
Lymphoedema therapy could be seen as an umbrella term that refers to a range of treatment methods, including manual lymphatic drainage, scar tissue therapy and the application of compression garments, lymph tape and bandaging (combined decongestive therapy) where required
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