Recognizing the signs of Lymphedema
Are you recovering from a mastectomy or lumpectomy surgery? If so, have you begun to notice some new sensations in your arm? You may have feelings of swelling, heaviness, tightness, pain, burning sensations, limited motion in the arm, and/or numbness at the arm, shoulder or chest. These could be signs of lymphedema, an inflammatory disease caused by failure of the lymphatic system.
What does the lymphatic system do?
It maintains a balance of fluid in your body when there is excess water located in the space between tissues or organs. Additionally, it assists your immune system by producing and transporting white blood cells throughout your body to fight harmful substances including cancer, bacteria and foreign substances.
How does the system fail?
If there is a blockage in the system, it will limit the absorption of proteins and fluid from the space between the tissues. Your body then will try to compensate for this by increasing the activity in the system and trying to create a new pathway for reabsorption. Eventually, your system may become fatigued which will leave the proteins remaining in the space between tissues rather than in the lymphatic system. These proteins attract additional water to this space which will lead to a perceived or actual stretch of the skin, otherwise known as lymphedema.
How is it treated?
To improve the lymphatic system, increased pressure is needed to assist with reabsorption into the veins. This can be achieved with external pressure including bandaging and/or use of fitted garments to wear on the affected arm. Treatment from a therapist also may include manual lymphatic drainage, which is a hands-on technique to assist with moving the fluid to an area where it can be reabsorbed in the body. Exercises also can be performed to assist with pumping the fluid through the body via a muscle pump, which is activated by contraction of the muscle.
Have questions about lymphedema?
Utilize the location finder on our website to get in contact with one of our lymphedema therapists to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.