Sunday, June 12, 2016

Learning about Lymphedema

As an Occupational Therapist, I learned about Lymphedema in school.  As a breast cancer patient, I became at risk.  This past week I attended the continuing education seminar, "Practical Applications of Manual Lymphatic Therapy: Enhancing Patient Outcomes in a Variety of Care Settings".  Not only did I get some CEUs for my OT licensure, but I brushed up on current research and treatment for lymphedema.  

What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system, which normally returns interstitial fluid to the thoracic duct and then the bloodstream.

What does it look like?

Here are 10 take-home points from the seminar:

1. Lymph nodes serve as a vacuum to pull fluid through vessels. They also cleanse and purify our body and stimulate WBC production. When compromised through removal and/or radiation fluid build-up can occur.
2. Lymphedema occurs in 25% of breast cancer patients.
3. There is no cure for lymphedema. There is treatment.
4. Manual lymph massage can be very effective. To a certain extent, fluid can be re-routed to other, stronger lymph nodes. I do a quick lymph drainage massage every night.
5. The latest research supports no limit on exercise! The key is to gradually build the duration and intensity of any new exercise.
6. If swelling is present, wear a compression garment while exercising. If no swelling, compression is optional. Yay me! I hate compression sleeves when it is hot out.
7. Protect affected area from sunburn, abrasions, and constriction. I will continue to wear my sun sleeve while mountain biking. Partially to protect my arm from the sun, partially to protect it from abrasions from rubbing up against trees/crashes.
8. Clean and apply antibiotic cream immediately to any cuts/abrasions to reduce infection risk.
9. Stretch the crap out of affected limb. Scar tissue build up and adhesions will further compromise any remaining lymph nodes after surgery/radiation
10. A great position paper on exercise and lymphedema:

**If you do have lymphedema secondary to breast cancer treatment, I recommend seeing a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT). They have over 100 hours of specific training whereas a "therapist trained in Manual Lymph Drainage" can have as little as 6 hours of training**