Lymphedema is a common side effect of many cancer treatments and is often the result of damage or the removal of your lymph nodes. Surgery and/or radiation treatment can damage your lymphatic system, leaving you at risk for lymphedema.
How do the lymph nodes work?
You often hear about your lymph nodes when talking to doctors and other health care professionals about cancer treatment. But what do the lymph nodes do? The lymphatic system helps the circulatory (blood) system rid the body of excess fluid, toxins, impurities, germs and bacteria. It does this vis the lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. Unlike the blood system, lymphatic fluid isn’t pumped through the body. Lymphatic vessels are made up of a series of small chambers which stretch as they fill with fluid and contract when full, a movement that pushes fluid along the vessel. Muscle contraction also helps move lymph fluid along.
All lymph fluid passes through clusters of lymph nodes. Though lymph nodes are found throughout the body, major clusters are in your groin, stomach, armpits, head and neck. The job of your lymph nodes is to filter lymph fluid and begin to fight any infection that passes through these nodes. When your lymph nodes aren’t working properly, lymph fluid and impurities can build up in your system, and this can lead to lymphedema.
What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is tissue swelling, often in an arm, leg or groin, caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid. The swelling can be uncomfortable and can also put the affected area at an increased risk of infection. Signs of lymphedema include: a feeling of tightness in the affected area; a sense of fullness or discomfort; a new onset of numbness or tingling; and visible swelling. It is possible to have some of these symptoms before any visible swelling is present. Lymphedema can come on gradually or suddenly.
People who have been diagnosed with cancer may be at risk of developing lymphedema. Lymph nodes are often removed during cancer diagnosis or surgery and may be damaged during radiation treatment or chemotherapy; this can compromise the lymphatic system by creating a smaller “drain” for lymph fluid to travel through.
Lymphedema is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured but can be treated. There are a variety of ways to help manage lymphedema. These include Complete Decongestive Therapy (which combines compression, manual lymphatic drainage, exercise, and skin care), as well as manual therapy, and stretching to help reduce scar adhesions and to release tight muscles and fascia.
At Haley Rehab, we are all trained in lymphedema management. If you’re either at risk of developing lymphedema or are living with it, let us work with you to help reduce your risk or manage your lymphedema. Contact us today to see how Haley Rehab can help you achieve wellness.