Manual Lymphatic Drainage
As well as blood circulating in our bodies, we also have a second circulating system, the lymph vessel system. This system’s role is to remove excess fluid, bacteria, viruses and waste products from body tissues and the space around the cells. Most of the tissue fluids return to the heart via the veins. The rest (about 2 litres/day) is transported back to the blood stream via lymphatic vessels.
The Lymphatic System
- Is where much of the body’s defence against disease and infection is located.
- It is made up of lymph fluid, lymph nodes and lymph vessels.
- Lymph fluid contains white blood cells that help to fight infection.
- Lymph nodes work to block infection by filtering out toxins and germs.
- Lymph vessels are the transit system that lymph fluid travels along.
- When the lymphatic system functions well, it helps to keep your body healthy.
- When the lymphatic system is faulty or has been damaged, fluid may collect in the tissues and this build up can cause swelling or other effects that could be the early signs of lymphedema.
Lymphedema is swelling of a body part, most often an arm or a leg, caused by the abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid. It can also occur in the face, neck, chest, breast, abdomen, groin and lung. The diagnosis is often missed by medical personnel. Traditional treatments usually offer temporary solutions which may in the long term make the symptoms worse.
However, once treated with Combined Decongestive Therapy, lymphedema can be brought under control. Although it is a chronic and progressive condition, lymphoedema can be compatible with a normal and active lifestyle. Lymphedema is either primary or secondary.
Primary Lymphodema: occur without any obvious cause. They may be present at birth or occur later in life. Some cases have a family history of the condition.
Can be caused by an injury, scarring or removal of the lymph nodes; this usually occurs as a result of previous radiation and/or surgery of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, pelvis or groin. Such treatments are commonly given for cancers of the breast, uterus, bladder, ovary, prostate or testicles and for malignant melanomas, sarcomas and lymphomas.
Occasionally, secondary lymphoedemas are caused by trauma to or chronic infections of the lymph vessel system.
Treatment for Lymphedema
The most effective form of treatment used by therapists is Combined Decongestive Therapy.
- Manual Lymph Drainage: a specialized type of massage which stimulates and improves the functioning of the lymph vessel system. In addition to this, lymph can be re-routed into existing pathways to improve lymphatic return to the blood stream.
- Compression therapy: includes compression garments and/or specialiized bandaging of the affected limb.
Education: includes basic information about the lymph vessel system, causes of lymphedema, self-massage and techniques for self-care and instruction in the use of compression bandages and garments.
- Exercise: recommendations and guidelines are given to fit the physical abilities and interests of the client.
- Skin Care: includes techniques and suggested products to keep the skin healthy, to improve its condition or to deal with problems.
Combined Decongestive Therapy: offers a practical and long lasting solution for people who have lymphedema or are at risk of developing this condition.