Susan A. Thomas, LMT, CLT
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What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema can be from many different causes. Some lymphedema occurs because the lymphatic system was damaged with surgery or another trauma. This is called secondary lymphedema and the most common type of lymphedema. Primary lymphedema affects those people who are born with the condition causing the lymphatic system to not work correctly.
Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling condition that may affect one or many body regions. The swelling develops because the lymphatic vessels or nodes have been damaged or were formed incorrectly. Lymphedema is most commonly a side effect of cancer treatments. If a person has surgery to remove lymph nodes, as is common for cancer treatment, of if they have radiation for cancer, the damage done to the lymphatic system may result in a back-up of fluid.
Lymphedema can be treated to decrease the swelling, however, there is no cure for lymphedema. The condition involves lifelong management of the swollen limb(s), with some form of (CDT) complete decongestive therapy to decrease the swelling and to prevent side effects like infections and skin breakdown.
Treatment of Lymphedema?
One great form of treatment for lymphedema management is Lymphedema Therapy by a Certified Lymphedema Therapist. A second great treatment is self-massage, learning how to perform lymphedema massage on yourself to help affect change in your own body. Compression garments should also be incorporated in your treatment regimen.
Since I am a Licensed Massage Therapist and a Certified Lymphedema Therapist, I can say this without reservation. If you have had a mastectomy, with or without radiation or lymph node removal, please do not get a deep-tissue or excessive pressure massage on or near the affected area. This type of massage may harm the delicate lymphatic vessels that remain healthy and viable in the region.
The Never-Ending Questions?
"Why didn't anyone warn me that this was a possibility that I might face after cancer treatment."
"Why won't anyone tell me what's wrong with my arm and why the swelling never goes away."
"Why have I never heard about lymphedema."
"Why don't my doctors seem to know anything about lymphedema." They're doctors??!!
"Can I shave, should I exercise, get a massage, surgery to the same area, blood pressure cuff, airplanes, sun tanning or hot tubs."
These questions came out of my mouth 18 years ago when I was diagnosed with lymphedema, before my training in lymphedema therapy. I still hear these questions today from my patients. Really sorry to say, but true...