Lymphoedema… What you can do before the signs appear
Lymphoedema is something we may only hear about if we are faced with it… And it’s more common than you think… Did you know there are ways to prevent and better manage it… Sharon Tilley a Lymphoedema Physiotherapist shares more about it…
We have met Sharon Tilley on several occasions and her passion to bring awareness to Lymphoedema led us to find out more… While it is an issue we generally don’t know enough about… she shed the light on what can be done… especially after surgery when the lymphatic system is under stress…
Thank you Sharon for taking the time on that wonderful sunny Saturday morning to bring the short video’s that really do demystify a lot about Lymphoedema…
|Your Name||Sharon Tilley|
|City of Residence||Adelaide|
|Occupation or Experience||Physiotherapist( graduated 1983)– postgraduate lymphoedema certificate
Principal Physiotherapist at Lymphoedema And Laser Therapy
|Your Passions/Interests||Early intervention for lymphoedema management
The use of low level laser as a treatment strategy
|A Favourite Quote|
1. What is lymphoedema and who is at risk of getting it?
Lymphoedema can be the end product of a lymphatic circulation system that is failing to function well and so fluid, known as lymph, which is normally present, then builds up in the tissues faster than it can be transported away. There is swelling in the affected part of the body and it can be associated with heaviness and aching. It is most commonly the result of damage to the lymph vessels through events such as surgery, radiotherapy and tissue damage and it is then known as secondary lymphoedema.
This type of swelling can occur at anytime after the damage but most commonly in the first few years. Approximately 200,000 people in Australia will have lymphoedema to some degree as a result of cancer treatment.
Primary lymphoedema, on the other hand, occurs as a result of a poorly developed lymph system and it can appear at birth. There is one in 6,000 babies born with lymphoedema.
2. Can lymphoedema be prevented? How do you know if it’s a problem?
Unfortunately lymphoedema cannot be guaranteed to be prevented with any particular action but there are some known risk factors which can be avoided or minimised to reduce the risk of onset. We know from research that being overweight for example increases the chances of developing lymphoedema. Skin care is important to reduce the chance of developing a bacterial infection called cellulitus which can also be a predisposing factor in developing lymphoedema.
There is also excellent research that suggests that regular exercise of more than 150 minutes per week can reduce the risk of getting lymphoedema. In another study it showed that those who already have lymphoedema can reduce their symptoms with resistance training eg using weights twice a week. It is very encouraging to know that there are things people can do at home to make positive changes!
Some early signs of lymphoedema that people describe, even before a difference in limb size is noticed are limb ache and heaviness. These feelings can come and go depending on how much the lymph system is being loaded. Activities such as housework, long periods at the computer and even an extended time of immobility with car and flight travel can cause overload.
3. When is it best to see a lymphoedema specialist?
If any symptoms persist and certainly if swelling or redness is noticed on the affected limb or trunk you should seek advice from a medical officer or a qualified lymphoedema therapist. Research has shown that early intervention is the absolute key factor in reducing the impact of lymphoedema. Whilst ther is no cure, the symptoms can be greatly reduced with correct treatment from a trained lymphoedema therapist. In one research trial, early changes in swelling were even reversed for up to 18 months (the length of the trial) and so we believe that this is where resources should be focussed in the future.
The Australasian Lymphology Association is the peak professional body in Australia for lymphoedema management, advocacy and research and there is a link on their website to a National Register to find an accredited therapist in your area who can help.
4. What are the best ways to manage it? Is there something we can do personally to help?
Management usually consists of a dual approach. Firstly the therapist can use techniques such as manual lymphatic massage, compression garments, low level laser therapy, bandaging and exercise therapy. There are many forms of exercise that are suitable and research has give us the confidence to safely prescribe programs that can even include weight resistance training. The important thing to consider is that it is done under supervision, at least initially, by an allied health professional to monitor any changes. Hydrotherapy, Tai Chi and Yoga have all shown to have evidence-based benefits.
Secondly there is the self-management aspect of care. Your therapist will be able to show you self-massage to stimulate lymphatic function and advise you about skin care, garment use and how to reduce load on the lymphatic system.
5. What other message would you like to give around lymphoedema?
Management of lymphoedema is evolving as we discover different ways of reducing symptoms. I believe the incidence of lymphoedema will further reduce with less invasive surgery now being used and by empowering people to act early to seek advice and treatment.
The thought that we can control lymphoedema rather than allowing it to control us is more of a reality now than ever before.