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Thoughtful Considerations for Lymphedema

My sister is an incredibly gifted and highly-trained instructor and massage therapist in Quinte West. She treats a lot of people who have lymphedema. And even as her clinic expands, it is challenging to meet the demand for the need of trained RMT’s who specifically provide Manual Lymphedema Drainage. If you live in the vicinity and would like to learn more her clinic is Trenton Massage and Lymphedema Clinic.

Lymphedema results as a build up of fluid in the soft tissue which is common post cancer treatment. It is related to lymph node removal or general damage to the lymph system from treatment. I am by no means an expert but this topic because it came up in conversation with a yoga student the other day and I shared this story. I’ve witnessed the amazing impact yoga therapy can have on lymphedema. I worked with an 80 year old woman who was a breast cancer survivor. She started one-on-one yoga therapy classes with me because she was concerned about her balance and wanted to be able to continue living independently. And yes, over the years that we worked together she became stronger and more confident in her balance and ease of movement AND something else happened too. Near the end of each of our sessions she had to urgently use the bathroom. Why is this of importance? Well, this client had lymphedema and as a result of the gentle range of motion practices the lymph drained and swelling reduced- and well it needed somewhere to go! She could only make it to a specialized massage therapist with training in Manual Lymph Drainage once every two or three months because the demand was just so high and she had to travel a long distance to receive the treatment. She discovered that she could get the same results with our weekly yoga practice, and receive numerous other benefits simultaneously. I think that’s pretty cool. Research has found that gentle range of motion exercises can prevent and treat lymphedema. This came out of research by the University of British Columbia back in 1996. It just so happens that yoga therapy involves the process of increasing range and load in deliberate and thoughtful increments that are appropriate to the individual. It honours the state of the tissue and the response to changes in load and range. When working with people post cancer treatment it is essential to

  • Honour the person

  • Help them find their baseline

  • Recognize that while there may be damage, to focus on what the function actually is

  • And gently and deliberately build upon that function.

My teacher Susi Hately provides some useful considerations if you have lymphedema:

  1. Nurture awareness. Pay attention to your baseline so you can notice changes to it. Both positive and negative.

  2. Pay attention to your clothes. Notice if the sleeves or the legs of your clothing feel tighter at the end of the workout. If so swelling is likely present and you may have overdone it.

  3. Pay attention to your knuckles. This is more specific to lymphatic issues in the upper body - if you look at your knuckles there are ridges and valleys. If fluid fills up those valleys overtraining is likely present.

  4. If there is swelling, notice how long it takes to dissipate. If it takes longer and longer, consider backing off on the effort or going less hard.

  5. Compensations play a big part, especially when lymphedema is present. When I have helped people reduce compensatory movement and improve breathing patterns, there is a correlation to reduced lymphedema.

If someone you love is moving through cancer treatment, and would benefit from this email, please pass this along.

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