What Role does Massage Therapy Play in Lymphedema’s Healing Process?

Lymphedema is a serious condition with no cure. In the United States, lymphedema affects an estimated 2.5 million and results in swelling of legs, arms, or both. However, the condition is often misdiagnosed as dermatitis, gout, or some other condition. In some instances, people remain undiagnosed. Along with no cure, a standard treatment to alleviate the symptoms of lymphedema is also unavailable. Even radiation and surgery has failed to reverse the condition, and in some cases, making it worse.

Radiation and surgery can trigger the condition, especially in cancer survivors and cancer patients. Now, they are the largest group of people with lymphedema in the United States. Therefore, doctors have begun to use different management approaches to combat the condition. Out of all the approaches used, massage therapy stood out as a clear winner.

Massage Therapy is the Most Prominent Relief for Lymphedema

Massage therapy has turned out to be a popular choice amongst sufferers of lymphedema. Hence, this puts added pressure on massage therapists coming into the massage industry to get an understanding of the disease.

In fact, the signs of the ailment should be evident when the client contacts them for a massage. By acknowledging that their client has lymphedema or are at risk of developing it, massage therapists then will deduce the type of massage that would be appropriate to use. If you suspect your client has lymphedema but is undiagnosed for it, follow these steps:

Step 1:  Symptoms of Lymphedema

Stage 1- When you press down on an area of your skin and it holds the indentation; the swelling is minor, means it will disappear when you lift the limb.

Stage II– When you life up your limb, the swelling does not disappear.

Late Stage II– The tissue does not press down, as it has hardened.

Stage III– The limb increases in size and swelling. The patient will have to seek reconstructive surgery to reverse it. The tissue is hard to the touch with the skin taking on a misshapen and discolored appearance. The patient loses functionality and movement of the limbs.

Step 2:  Determine the Cause of Lymphedema

  • Did they have their lymph nodes removed? (prostate, uterus, colon, bladder, skin, lumpectomy, and breast surgery)
  • Did they undergo radiation therapy? (damages vessels and lymph nodes)
  • Did they suffer from trauma? (liposuction, thermal injury, or pelvic fracture)
  • Did an infection lead to destruction and scarring of tissue?
  • Did cancer spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, neck, pelvis, underarm, or abdomen?
  • Did they visit a tropical country recently and contract filariasis?

Step 3:  Share Risk Factors

  1. Aggressive massage triggers the formation of tissues and produces microtrauma that can lead to swelling and inflammation.
  2. Even with the lack of scientific evidence to back up this theory, some medical professional believe that age plays a vital role in the development of lymphedema. For instance, radiation therapy in the elderly can cause the condition to develop.
  3. Obesity and overweight individuals store excess body fat, putting increased pressure on the lymphatic and circulation system.
  4. Infection can be the main cause of lymphedema.
  5. Scuba diving and traveling via plane causes a change in pressure and allows fluids to collect in the extremities.
  6. Saunas, hot tubs, hot weather, and hot packs can cause lymphedema symptoms.
  7. Cuts and scratches in the skin can worsen the symptoms of lymphedema.

As a massage therapist, know the medical history of your client, even if they do not show signs of lymphedema. If you suspect the client has lymphedema but is not diagnosed for it yet, instruct them to visit a doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

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