Lymphedema can seriously compromise the quality of life. Though the condition is rare, studies show that primary lymphedema affects 1 in 100,000 individuals. However, secondary lymphedema is the most common cause of disease and has a higher rate in the US, where 1 in 1000 Americans are affected.
Keep reading to learn whether non-interventional strategies be beneficial for reducing lymphedema and how a massage chair for lymphedema is a good idea.
What is lymphedema?
Lymph and edema make up the word lymphedema. Lymph is a particular protein-rich fluid that flows through the lymph channels. It is responsible for aiding in fat digestion and nourishing immune cells.
Edema means accumulation. Lymphedema implies the accumulation of lymph fluid within the interstitium and the body's adipose (fat) tissues, leading to swelling.
This accumulation can occur anywhere in the body but is most common in the following:
Types of lymphedema
There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary lymphedema.
Primary lymphedema is a congenital condition characterized by abnormality of the lymphatic system. Genetic mutations inherited from parents can lead to the following types of primary lymphedema:
- Congenital lymphedema
- Lymphedema praecox
- Lymphedema tarda
This type arises from injury or obstruction to the lymphatic flow. Malignancies and infections can lead to the development of swelling arms and legs. Secondary lymphedema frequently occurs in patients who have breast cancer.
Signs and symptoms
Lymphedema presents itself in the following ways:
- Swelling in the extremities (arms and hands, legs and feet)
- Proximal swelling in the breast/chest, pelvis, groin, and face
- Limb heaviness
- Pain and altered sensation
- Decreased range of motion
- Skin discoloration
Treatment of lymphedema
As it is a chronic disease, it has the potential to progress with time. Therefore, it is critical to treat it promptly. The following different treatment methods have been proven effective.
Decongestive lymphedema therapy
DLT, or Decongestive lymphedema therapy, is the primary treatment of choice for managing moderate cases of lymphedema. The procedure is effective in reducing the intensity of pain and heaviness in breast cancer patients.
Massage for lymphedema
One of massage therapy's most significant advantages is circulation improvement. This massage outcome is, therefore, utilized to push the accumulated lymph out of the tissues.
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a massage designed to improve lymph flow. With improvements in lymph flow, the lymphatic system can flush out the accumulated fluid in the interstitium and improve the condition.
A 2020 systematic review had conflicting reviews, but one thing was sure decongestive lymphedema therapy and manual lymphatic drainage could reduce the incidence of lymphedema in breast cancer patients.
In another review, researchers found manual lymphatic drainage to be borderline effective in treating lymphedema. One study concluded that patients should apply compression garments following manual lymphatic drainage therapy to enhance lymphatic flow.
In addition to the enhancements in the lymph flow and reduced swelling, manual lymphatic drainage also helped alleviate pain. As per a 2019 study, MLD increased the pain threshold and improved the quality of life in cancer patients.
Another study found manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) to be a safe and effective strategy in rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery. The localized swelling caused by lymphedema can be alleviated using superficial lymphatic massage.
A 2021 study revealed that lymphatic massage therapy opens the lymphatic vessels to let the excess fluid drain back to the proximal lymph nodes.
Those suffering from lymphedema in the upper arms should consider getting a manual lymphatic drainage massage. As reported by participants of a study, MLD promotes an increase in brachial vein velocity. This increase in the activity of the brachial vein in breast cancer surgery patients is effective in aiding lymphatic drainage.
Negative pressure massage therapy
Apart from MLD, another type of massage therapy can benefit patients suffering from lymphedema. Per a randomized controlled trial, 60 minutes of negative pressure massage for 4-6 weeks improved L-Dex scores (lymphedema index). A study also backs the use of intermittent negative pressure massage therapy in the combined treatment of peripheral lymphedema.
Massage chairs for lymphedema
Modern massage chairs like the ones available at Zarifa USA can be perfect replacements for professional massage therapists. Self-care can be an essential aspect of decongestion therapy.
As per a study, conservative treatments for secondary lymphedema can be helpful. Researchers found in a randomized controlled trial that self-management of lymphedema in breast cancer patients can be pretty effective. There is no better way of self-management than a massage chair for lymphedema.
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Patients can apply specialized compression garments (CG) to the edematous limb. The pressure forces the lymph to ooze out of the interstitium and drain via the lymphatic channels.
Compression therapy can combine with massage therapy for superior results. A study suggests that low-pressure compression is better compared to high-pressure in managing lymphedema.
As per another detailed study, active exercise with compression therapy can significantly improve cancer-related-lower-limb lymphedema.
Different types of exercises can help you alleviate symptoms. Resistance exercise can decrease breast cancer-related lymphedema.
A systematic review also supports the adoption of exercise in daily life to improve the range of motion of joints and quality of life.
While doctors can prescribe medicines for symptomatic disease management, surgery is the only definitive treatment option.
Microsurgeries are effective at times. Vascularized lymph node transfer, lymphaticovenous anastomoses, and suction-assisted protein lipectomies may solve the issue.
The bottom line
Lymphedema (primary or secondary) is upper and lower limb swelling. It can seriously compromise your mobility and quality of life. A practical relief method is massage therapy (manual lymphatic drainage), which enhances the drainage of extra lymph fluids and improves the patients' pain perception.
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