By Patricia Danflous

Inspire lymph flow and improve circulation and the body’s immune system.

Melissa had much to celebrate. Two years after her breast cancer diagnosis and successful treatment, she was healthy, happy and loving the curly hair that grew back after radiation. But then the swelling started. 

“I woke up one morning with my left arm about twice the size of the right one,” she said. “The possibility of lymphedema was always in the back of my mind, but after two years I wasn’t worried about it anymore.”

Most commonly associated with cancer treatment, lymphedema is a fluid retention and tissue swelling condition related to an impaired lymphatic system or the removal of lymph nodes.

“Not every patient will develop lymphedema,” says Licensed Massage Therapist Makenzi Edwards, a staff member of East Jefferson General Hospital Wellness Center in Metairie, Louisiana. “The condition can occur within minutes, days, weeks or years after radiation treatment, for example – or not at all.”

The permanent condition, which is not only unsightly but often painful, can be controlled and potentially reduced with consistent massage therapy. “Lymphatic massage is a very, very gentle light touch massage intended to reduce edema, inspire lymph flow and to improve circulation and the body’s immune system,” Edwards explains. 

“Every patient is different, but regular treatment is recommended for optimum results,” she continues. “Depending on the severity of the condition, that might mean weekly or monthly massages. The arms and legs are the areas primarily affected, and we often recommend a combination of massage therapy and the use of compression garments.”

Edwards cautions that there are situations in which lymphatic massage should not be applied, including fever or increased swelling. As with all medical procedures, it is best to check with your physician before beginning treatment.  

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