Lymphoedema is a chronic condition in which fluid collects underneath the skin and causes swelling. Lymph is the name of the fluid that is pushed out of the venous system into the tissues, and this lymphatic fluid slowly builds up when there is an imbalance between what is being pushed into the tissues, and what is being removed from the tissues by the lymphatic system.
Lymphoedema can affect any area of the body, but most commonly affects the arms or legs. It may affect both sides of the body, or just one side.
The cause of Lymphoedema is very varied. It may be due to genetic disorders, venous disorders, cardiac failure, or damage to the lymphatic system from trauma, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. It can affect people of different ages, and is not, as people often mistakenly believe, just an “older persons” disease.
Whilst we cannot fix Lymphoedema, there are many options available to help you manage your swelling better. It is really a journey about finding what works best for you, and each treatment plan is designed specifically for the individual.
Our two Physiotherapists that specialise in Lymphoedema, are post graduate trained specialist Lymphoedema Therapists and are incredibly passionate about supporting their clients in both the physical management of the condition, but also giving psychological and emotional support.
Megan Reid works at Total Physiocare three days per week, and two days per week at Monash Hospital Lymphoedema Clinic. She has a wealth of experience in helping clients with complex Lymphoedema and medical conditions.
Lainie Parker has approximately 20 years of clinical experience as a physiotherapist, post graduate Lymphoedema specialisation, and is particularly passionate about helping clients who are experiencing Lymphoedema because of cancer, or cancer treatment. Having personally been affected by both breast cancer and melanoma, she can completely emphasise with her clients and share some practical tips and honesty about the journey.
Whilst a lot of our clients are referred to us by their surgeon, oncologist, or GP, it is also completely fine to refer yourself. Lymphoedema is very much an under diagnosed condition. So, if you are thinking that you may be experiencing some sort of swelling issue, an assessment by one of our Lymphoedema Therapists may be a good place to start to help you understand the probable cause of your swelling and best ways to manage it.
Why wait? Book in now to speak to one of our Lymphoedema specialists today!
Special 3 part blog series!
Early Signs of Lymphoedema
- Aching or tingling feeling visible swelling
- Tightness, heaviness or fullness
- Pitting of the skin
- Discomfort when trying to fully move the affected limb
Stages of Lymphoedema
Circulation and drainage of lymph fluid is affected but there is no swelling.
Fluid gathers and causes mild swelling that subsides when the affected limb is elevate; there may be pitting of the swollen skin (pitting is when an indentation or mark remains in the skin after pressure is applied).
Swelling does not reduce when the affected limb is elevated; pitting of the skin is present; tissues begin to harden.
There is a large amount of fluid; tissue in the affected area is hard; there is no pitting of the skin; the appearance of the skin changes (e.g. thickened areas, dark patches and wart-like bumps can appear).
Lymphoedema and Cancer
Lymphoedema is a common side affect after cancer surgery and radiation therapy. It can appear months or even years following cancer treatment. Lymphoedema is the build up of large amounts of protein-rich fluid (called Lymph) which results in swelling in one or more limbs of the body. It often occurs when the lymphatic vessels or nodes have been damaged after chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.
While it can’t be cured completely, it can be reduced and managed with appropriate physiotherapy care. Treatment for lymphoedema is called ‘complex decongestive physiotherapy’ and is aimed at reducing swelling through massage, bandaging, compression garments, exercises and skin care. The earlier it is assessed, diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.
Total Physiocare has Lymphoedema Physiotherapists who can assist in the management of lymphoedema following cancer treatment.
Although there is no way to know for sure whether you will develop lymphoedema after cancer therapy, you can certainly help yourself minimise the risk of developing it. Your initial session with our specialist will leave you with:
- Extensive knowledge about the risk factors and early symptoms for the condition
- Have a baseline measurement of your limbs to enable you to make comparisons if you start to notice symptoms in the future.
- Know the three best techniques to avoid developing lymphoedema
The early detection and management of the condition can significantly reduce the long-term physical, functional and psychological effects caused by late diagnosis and poor management of the condition.
Our Lymphoedema Physiotherapists will be able to assist with assessment and treatment. (*Available at all Clinics)
Lipoedema (Lipodema) Care
Did you know that Lipoedema affects 1 in 11 women? What is Lipoedema... we hear you ask?
Lipoedema is a chronic disease which was first described in 1940. It is a syndrome which exhibits a disproportionate fat distribution and almost exclusively affects women. It is characterised by:
- Large/fat legs which are caused by disproportionate fat distribution in the buttocks and lower limb
- The increase in leg size may be disproportionate to the upper limbs and rest of the body
- Swelling does not include the feet
- It can affect the upper limbs, but spares the hands
- May have associated lymphoedema (fluid collection)
- May or may not be in conjunction with obesity
- Increased pressure sensitivity (sensitive to touch), bruise easily
The fat in lipoedema is resistant to calorie restriction, exercise, and weight loss surgery. This means that the women affected often feel helpless, leading to psychosocial issues such as depression. Severe lipoedema can result in joint osteoarthritis. Lipoedema is regularly under diagnosed or misdiagnosed as obesity. There is often a genetic link with patients’ mothers or grandmothers being affected.
Classification of Lipoedema:
Type I – Pelvis, Buttocks and Hips (saddle phenomenon)
Type II – Buttocks to knees, with medial thigh fat fold formation
Type III – Buttocks to Ankles Type
IV – Upper limb
Type V – Lower Leg only
Treatment of Lipoedema can include psychosocial support, diet management, exercise, compression garments and manual lymphatic drainage.
Whilst a lot of our clients are referred to us by their health professionals or GP, it is also completely fine to refer yourself. Lipoedema is very much an under diagnosed condition. So, if you are thinking that you may be experiencing some sort of issue, or have had your condition fobbed off as obesity, the best place to start is with an assessment by one of our Lymphoedema Therapists. Once we determine if you do have Lipoedema, we can certainly advise you of the available treatment options and how to best your Lipoedema, supporting you ever step of the way.
Cording (Axillary Web Syndrome)
Cording is a hardening of the lymphatic vessels which can happen following breast surgery. It can develop in the weeks or months following breast surgery or surgery to remove some or all your lymph nodes. It presents as a pulling sensation in the arm pit, breast, arm or even as far as the hand when you lift your arm above your head. In some cases, the ‘cords’ are visible or palpable. They can cause you to have decreased shoulder mobility and function.
These usually resolve over a few months but may benefit from treatment by a Lymphoedema Therapist. It may help to resolve the cording and improve shoulder movement quicker. Treatment can include shoulder stretching, massage to release the cords and in some cases laser.