Lymphedema is swelling in the arms or legs that is most commonly caused by cancer treatment that involves removing or damaging lymph nodes. A blockage in the lymphatic system prevents lymph fluid from draining normally, resulting in fluid buildup and swelling.
While there is no cure, the condition can be managed with early detection and diligent care, as well as treatment of the affected limb. The first step toward quickly diagnosing and treating lymphedema is to understand how to recognize it.
Signs and symptoms
The following symptoms occur in the affected arm or leg, according to The Mayo Clinic:
- swelling of a part or all of the arm and leg, including the fingers and toes
- a sense of heaviness and tightness
- a restricted range of motion
- aching or discomfort
- recurring infections
- hardening or thickening of the skin
Swelling caused by lymphedema can range from mild and barely noticeable changes in the size of the affected arm or leg to severe changes that make the limb difficult to use.
Lymphedema can be primary or secondary, which means it can occur on its own (primary) or due to another disease or condition (secondary). Secondary lymphedema, on the other hand, is far more common.
Primary lymphedema is a rare, inherited condition that is caused by problems with the development of the body’s lymph vessels. Any condition or procedure that damages lymph nodes or lymph vessels causes secondary lymphedema, such as lymph node removal surgery, cancer, cancer radiation therapy, or infection.
Lymphedema can occur due to any cancer or treatment that affects the flow of lymph through the lymph nodes, such as lymph node removal. It can appear within days or years of treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute, most lymphedema develops within three years of surgery.
Natural Ways to Manage Lymphedema Symptoms
Massage therapy can benefit a wide range of health conditions, including lymphedema. It is best to seek the services of a certified massage therapist who understands how to massage your body in a light manner that helps in the movement of lymph fluid from swollen areas to other areas where your lymph system is still functioning properly. It’s also a good idea to learn how to self-massage to promote healthy lymphatic fluid flow and reduce swelling.
Most experts suggest moderate exercise regularly for people struggling with lymphedema. Aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, can greatly help move lymph fluid away from your problem areas and reduce swelling. Before beginning any new exercise program, consult with your doctor. He or she will most likely advise you to wear pressure garments while working out.
“Breast cancer survivors should begin with light upper-body exercise and slowly increase it,” according to the National Cancer Institute. According to some studies with breast cancer survivors, upper-body exercise is safe in women who have or are at risk of lymphedema. Weight-lifting that is gradually increased may prevent swelling from worsening.” The Institute recommends that exercise be started slowly and gradually increased over time and that it be done under the supervision of a lymphedema therapist. If you don’t exercise for a week or more, you should start slowly and gradually increasing your activity level.
Practice Healthy Skincare
Good skin care is essential because lymphedema makes you susceptible to skin infections. Bacteria can grow, flourish, and cause infections more easily when fluid is trapped in your tissues.
Using natural cosmetic products, you can keep your skin, hair, and nails clean. You should also keep your skin moisturized by using natural moisturizers such as coconut oil and shea butter. Avoid taking a bath or shower in hot water. When going outside, use natural sunscreen to avoid getting sunburned. To protect your skin, always wear gloves when gardening or doing other outdoor work.
You also don’t want to overlook your toes and feet! Wear breathable cotton socks and keep them clean and dry. If you suspect you have an ingrown toenail, see a podiatrist right away because they can often lead to infection.
Take Deep Breaths
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, deep breathing helps to stimulate the movement of lymph fluid in the body. To avoid light-headedness, they recommend taking no more than three deep breaths.
Eating a healthy whole foods diet and avoiding foods that contribute to obesity, such as refined sugar, refined flours, sweetened beverages, processed foods, fast food, and foods containing trans and hydrogenated fats. To help your weight loss goals, you may want to seriously consider a ketogenic diet. Of course, regular exercise is another important habit to incorporate if you want to recover from and prevent obesity.
As usual, what you eat and don’t eat can help you manage a health condition such as lymphedema. Concentrate your diet on whole foods, especially anti-inflammatory foods, by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits daily. You should limit high-sodium processed foods because they will only contribute to more fluid retention and swelling.
If you smoke, you should quit, avoid, or at least limit your alcohol consumption.
If you have signs of an infection, such as redness, pain, swelling, heat, fever, or red streaks below the skin’s surface, contact Elite Health and Wellness in Kearney, NE, right away.
With the help of our specially trained therapists, you can get relief from the pain and swelling of lymphedema through Lymphedema Therapy.