Lymphoedema is the accumulation of excessive amounts of protein-rich fluid resulting in swelling of one or more regions of the body.
To understand lymphoedema, it’s first helpful to understand the body system that it effects. What is the lymph system?
The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is most simply described as our body’s ‘sewerage system’. It maintains fluid levels in our tissues by removing all fluids that leak out of our blood vessels.
The lymphatic system is important for the optimal functioning of our general and specific immune responses. The lymph nodes (which are most easily felt in the neck and groin) monitor the lymph flowing into them and produce cells and antibodies which protect our body from infection and disease. You may have noticed swelling in these nodes when you are unwell.
What is Lymphoedema?
When the lymphatic system has been damaged by surgery, radiotherapy or other tissue damage, swelling of a part of the body may occur. If this swelling persists for more than three months it is known as lymphoedema. The swelling is casued by an accumulation of excessive amounts of protein-rich fluid. While lymphoedema most commonly occurs in the arms and legs, it can occur in other regions.
Who is likely to develop Lymphoedema?
There are different types of lymphoedema:
Primary lymphoedema: This occurs when the lymphatic system doesn’t develop correctly. It can be diagnosed soon after birth or later on in life and is often hereditary.
Secondary lymphoedema: This is most commonly triggered by cancer treatment which involves lymph node removal or damage by radiation or chemotherapy. Other causes of Secondary Lymphoedema include trauma, infection and obesity.
How does it present?
Lymphoedema can gradually appear, and may present initially as transient swelling of a limb or other region of the body. Other symptoms may include aching, heaviness, stiffness, limitation of movement, tightness or temperature changes.
People with lyphoedema may find that clothing, jewellery or shoes may feel tighter. While lymphoedema is not usually a painful condition, some people report pain and pressure in the affected region.
Can Lymphoedema be treated?
Lymphoedema cannot be cured but early diagnosis and appropriate management ensures the best possible outcome to minimise the impact of lymphoedema on a patient’s function. Lymphoedema therapists accredited with the Australian Lymphoedma Associiation (ALA) are able to provide the most effective treatment following Best Practice Guidelines.
What treatment is available for Lymphoedema at The Healthy Body Company?
The recommended Best Practice treatment method, is conservative and is known as Complex Lymphoedema Therapy (CLT).
CLT consists of the following components
- Skin Care: to maintain optimal skin condition and prevent infections
- Exercise: to improve lymphatic flow and to maintain strength and body weight.
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): to enhance lymphatic flow and to establish new pathways when it is necessary to redirect flow. This may include massage and/or the use of a compression pump.
- Compression: to maintain the reduction in lymphatic volume.
Treatment is tailored for each client and not all components of treatment may be necessary in all cases. Those with mild
lymphoedema may only require education, exercise and skin care. Those suffering from from more severe lyphoemdema, treatment may be longer and require two phases. Phase I is an intensive treatment provided by a trained lymphoedema therapist followed by Phase II, which is self management that the client continues at home. With improved health education people are reporting early limb changes promptly and this is contributing to a reduction in the need for intensive treatments
Your Lymphoedema Physiotherapist may prescribe a garment to wear and will ensure the garment remains appropriate for your lymphoedema. It is essential these are assessed regularly to ensure adequate compression is maintained. These garments are usually claimable through your health fund. Your treatment may include the application of a compression
Where to from here
Often sufferers of lymphoedema have experienced considerable trauma that may have resulted in the development of lyphoedema. Feel free to get in touch with our team to discuss the best approach for you.
About the Lymphoedema service at The Healthy Body Company
Louise Richardson, our Accredited Lymphoedema Therapist has qualifications in Physiotherapy and Exercise Physiology. She has been working with lymphoedema clients since 2011 and is ideally placed to meet the needs of anyone suffering from this condition.
Our lymphoedema patients receive their treatment in a beautiful private treatment room. Feel free to get in touch to discuss your individual needs.