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  • Writer's pictureTanya Hamlet

Lymphedema and The Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic system consists of a network of Lymph vessels, Lymph nodes, Lymph organs and fluid throughout the body whose main function is to manage fluid levels and defend the body against infection within the body.

Inefficiencies and/or trauma to the Lymphatic system can lead to compromises in the immune system such as a prolonged healing process, increased risk of infection and/or chronic issues such as Lymphedema.

What is Lymphedema

Lymphedema is defined as excessive swelling and/or the build up of Lymph fluid in the soft tissue of the body. Lymphedema occurs most commonly in ones extremities but can occur anywhere throughout the body. Lymphedema usually occurs in parts of the body where Lymph nodes have been damaged or removed. One of the main reasons for damage or removal of Lymph nodes in North America is commonly related to cancer treatments and related surgeries but worldwide the most common reason for Lymphedema is due to filariasis infection

Types of Lymphedema

Primary Lymphedema is when a person is born with it. Although not genetic there can be a family history of it. Primary Lymphedema can present itself at birth, adolescent or even in adulthood. The presence of Lymphedema can be confirmed with ones medical history in addition to a positive Stemmer’s sign which is a test that can be done by pinching and lifting the skin fold at the base of the second toe. If the skin does not lift then that’s a positive sign indicating Primary Lymphedema

Secondary Lymphedema is usually as result of an external factor that causes damage or inefficiencies to the Lymphatic system, such as cancer related surgery and/or treatment, deficiencies in Lymph vessels due to vascular issues, trauma to vessels, and/or infection (i.e. cellulitis)

Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Lymphedema is chronic condition which currently has no cure but it can be managed through Manual Lymphatic drainage therapy, regular exercise, healthy diet, hydration, and wearing compression garments.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a specialized hands-on therapy that can encourage the natural drainage of Lymphatic fluid within the body. MLD techniques work on a superficial level to influence the direction and speed of Lymphatic flow redirecting if necessary. The techniques used are a series of strokes, gentle touches and rhythmic circular movements to stimulate Lymph flow. MLD can be used to treat/reduce both acute and chronic swelling throughout the body.

Who can benefit from MLD:

  • Those with Lymphedema and Lipedema to help reduce Lymph fluid build up and maintain size, function and soft tissue health of affected area

  • Pre/Post trauma (i.e. Surgery): can be used as a preventative measure to help reduce/minimize swelling and/or aid in reducing risk of infection

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