Understanding Lymphoedema

on Tuesday, 27 October 2015. Tags CancerCare, cancersupport, Hydrotherapy, Kendal, Lancaster, Lymphoedema, Massage

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month we take a look at Lymphoedema - a common condition experienced by many cancer patients - and some of the ways CancerCare can help.

Lymphoedema Facts:

  • Lymphoedema is caused by a build-up of the fluid in the body’s tissues that is not able to drain away properly because of damage or a blockage.
  • It can be caused by cancer itself or develop as a side effect of its treatment.
  • Lymphoedema has been shown to affect approximately one in five women after breast cancer treatment.

There is no cure for this condition, but it can be improved by:

  • Wearing compression garments. These put pressure on tissues to stop fluid build-up and encourage the fluid to drain. They should be fitted by a specialist.
    Taking good care of your skin – which reduces the chance of infection
    Moving and exercising regularly (swimming is really good – so link here to hydrotherapy). Keeping physically active stimulates the flow of lymph fluid and reduces swelling
    Massaging the affected area

Once you have seen a specialist for support and advice you can manage the care of this condition yourself.

Hydrotherapy & Lymphoedema

Aquatic therapy consists of activities that are performed while immersed in water.

These activities are particularly beneficial for those with lymphoedema because:

  • The support of the water makes it possible to perform motions that could not be achieved in other settings
    The ease of movement through the water relaxes the muscles, decreases pain, and increases the sense of well-being
    The buoyancy and support of the water allows exercise without heavy jarring or impact on the joints
    The movement of the water against the body assists the flow of the lymph and blood as gentle movements in the water stimulate muscle and skin movement without stressing other body parts
    The hydrostatic pressure of the water provides resistance that strengthens muscles and improves cardiac and respiratory conditioning

Massage & Lymphoedema

The aim of the massage is to move fluid from the swollen area into an area where the lymphatic system is working normally. To do this the person massaging you first massages and clears the area they want the fluid to drain into. It might seem strange to have them massage your chest and neck if you have lymphoedema in your arm. But it means that the fluid has somewhere to drain to when they massage your arm.

You usually lie down to have massage. But if you have lymphoedema in your head and neck, you sit up.

When you have the massage you feel a gentle pressure. It is not a deep massage. If it is too deep it won’t work because it flattens the small lymph vessels so that the fluid can’t drain. The movements are slow and rhythmic so the lymph vessels open up.


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