Manual Lymphatic Drainage
By Rich Monetti
The Lymphatic System circulates T-cells and B-cells throughout the body, acting as the first line of defense against disease and infection. As a result of breast cancer surgery and other cancer surgeries, some of the lymphatic drainage points about the arms or legs are removed – thus causing a breakdown in the flow. Aside from compromising the immune system, Lymph cells accumulate in the nearby effected limb, resulting in an immobilizing swelling that eludes a cure for millions, but an effective treatment is easily in reach.
Through very precise manipulation, the Lymphadema Therapist
Intrigued by MLD as she was pursuing her studies in massage therapy, she says, “After one treatment, you see that you have removed fluid because you measure before and after, always seeing a decrease.”
With measurements in mind and medical acceptance coming much more readily these days, post cancer surgery should and usually does coincide with limb comparisons done at regular intervals. A high tech device known as the Impedimed can detect any changes at a micro level and has an impact going beyond just seeing a difference with the naked eye. “Like anything else,” says Physical Therapist Elisa Schwartz and Team leader of Lymphedema Services at Phelps, "early intervention is key and we’re trying to get patients in as soon as possible.”
Once properly diagnosed, the standard treatment period varies between four and six weeks and should reconnect the effected points in the system to those that are still functioning normally. Following the acute phase, patients must wear specifically fitted bandages or garments that keep the lymph system flowing and prevent swelling from reemerging.
A 24/7 requirement that is forgiving of the occasional special event, patients still easily opt for this over the alternative of having limited mobility. Otherwise, the problem can be compounded with breaks in the skin in the effected area since the lymph system will naturally flow cells to those locations to address a cut.
So it’s recommended that patients stay on top of skin integrity and cleanliness, while coming in every about every three months to stay ahead of any breakdowns - provided swelling doesn't reoccur beforehand. Moving forward Lymphadema patients can return (and are encouraged) to return to exercise and movement regiments that they’ve already developed a tolerance for.
Whether you have Lymphadema or not, she says, “You don’t just go out and run the New York City Marathon.” Jogging around the block or playing tennis to a point before pain or swelling begins is the idea. “If you play tennis for two hours and get swollen then maybe an hour is your limit,” she concludes.