What is lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition of tissue swelling caused by the accumulation of protein-rich fluid unable to be drained through the body’s lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system. Within the lymphatic system are lymph nodes, which act as filters and contain cells that fight infection and cancer.
The protein-rich fluid or lymph fluid is pushed through the lymph vessels by two means; muscle contractions as you move through the tasks of your days and small pumps in the wall of the lymph vessels.
What causes lymphoedema?
Any type of problems that block the drainage of lymph fluid can cause lymphoedema. It can also occur if lymph fluid is not adequately drained by lymph vessels – usually from the arm or leg. One common cause is cancer treatment that removes or damages the lymph nodes.
Severe cases of lymphoedema can affect the ability to move the affected limb, increase risks of skin infections and sepsis, and can lead to skin changes and breakdown.
How exercise helps lymphoedema
1) Lymphatic massage
Light-handed type of massage is called manual lymphatic massage. A trained therapist rubs, taps, and strokes your body to try to move fluid away from the swollen area.
Deep breathing exercises help the flow of the lymph fluid through the body. It allows the fluid to flow into the lymph system in the chest away from the area with lymphoedema.
Deep breathing is helpful for all types of lymphoedema including head and neck swelling. It works by changing the pressure in your abdomen and chest. This encourages lymph to flow back into the blood system.
You can do these breathing exercises while sitting up in a chair or in bed, or while lying down.
a. Relax your shoulders and upper chest.
b. Rest one of your hands below your ribs.
c. Take a slow, deep, comfortable breath in through your nose, feeling your hand rise as your tummy (abdomen) rises.
d. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth, so your abdomen is flat again.
Do this 5 times.
What you’re able to do will depend on:
a.How fit you were before your treatment;
b.The type of treatment you had;
c.How severe your lymphoedema is.
Gentle movements that squeeze the muscles in your affected limb can help fluid drain and make it easier to do everyday things. Activities that get your heart pumping and make you breathe a little harder can also bring down the swelling.
Exercise also helps you to keep a full range of movement and may improve quality of life.
Exercises for arm lymphoedema
1) Make a fist
2) Move up and down wrist
3) Bend and straighten elbow
4) Shoulder rotation
5) Shoulder up and down
Exercises for leg lymphoedema
1) Ankle: circle clockwise and anticlockwise
2) Ankle up and down
3) Knee exercise
If you are suffering from lymphoedema, feel free to make appointment with one of our highly experienced Physiotherapists today!
Prepared by Fatima Zahra Binti Rusly
Physiotherapist of Your Physio Cheras