Often associated with cancer treatment and recovery, the lymphatic system is responsible for collecting the fluid and proteins that build up in the body tissues and transporting them back into the blood circulation. It also has important roles in immune function and fighting infection. A series of very fine lymph collectors start from just under the skin and carry the fluid through progressively larger and deeper vessels. There is no pump for the lymphatic system, so fluid moves mainly due to pressure gradients and muscle contraction.
The most common cause of lymphoedema is when the lymphatic system is damaged due to cancer treatments, this is called secondary lymphoedema. However, some people are born with an inadequate lymphatic system and this is called primary lymphoedema, this is much less common.
Lymphoedema following Cancer Surgery
Secondary lymphoedema after cancer surgery often affects one limb, ie. the arm on the same side as the breast removed during a mastectomy, it is more common when a large amount of lymph nodes are also removed but can also occur when very few are removed. If lymph nodes have been removed or damaged on both sides of the body then swelling can be bilateral (on both sides). Initial symptoms can include a feeling of heaviness in the affected limb and mild swelling that resolves at night, but this will often progress into a more pronounced swelling. If left untreated the swelling can increase and thicken (fibrose) considerably and negatively affect quality of life. Once lymphoedema has progressed to the permanent swelling phase it cannot be cured, however it can be treated in order to minimise it’s effects and prevent progression.
Lymphoedema can be treated using:
- Manual Lymphatic drainage (Lymphatic massage)
- Garment prescription
- Skincare advice and education
At Central Lakes Physio we can provide lymphoedema therapy, Vicky has been trained using the Vodder technique through Klose training and is also a Pinc and Steel Cancer Rehabilitation provider.