Frequently Asked Questions

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  • 1. What is Lymphoedema?

    Lymphoedema is another word for chronic oedema (swelling) just under the skin which has been present for over three months.
    Lymphoedema in particular is a failure of the lymphatic system which carries fluid (lymph) from the body’s tissues, through lymph nodes and back to the central bloodstream. This leads to a build up of protein-rich fluid just under the skin. It most commonly affects the arms or legs but other regions of the body can also be affected.

    The lymphatic system has two main functions:

    • Move lymphatic fluid from the tissues back to the general circulatory system
    • Immunity: protect the body against infections and remove waste products

    Lymphoedema can result from damage to the lymphatic vessels and/or lymph nodes (secondary lymphoedema). Less commonly, a person may be born with an incomplete or slow lymphatic system (primary lymphoedema).

    In Australia the most common cause of lymphoedema is after some cancer treatments but there are other numerous causes such as recurrent skin infections, vein disease (varicose veins), obesity, immobility. Outside of Australia, mainly in sub-tropical regions, a major cause is Filariasis which is caused by a parasitic filarial worm which is transmitted through mosquito bites.

    Early signs of lymphoedema include a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the affected area.

    This lymphoedema clinic in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne provides care for people with both primary or secondary lymphoedema.If you are worried about any unexplained oedema you may want to see your doctor first as there are a number of investigations to help with diagnosis and management. Early intervention will help to prevent long term complications so an early assessment by a lymphoedema therapist is recommended.

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  • 2. What is Remedial Massage?

    Remedial massage uses a variety of techniques to treat the muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues of the body in order to assist in rehabilitation, pain and injury management. It aims to increase blood and lymph flow, particularly in an injured areas, thus removing damaged cells and treating scar tissue and adhesions.

    Prior to treatment the therapist will take a full history and assessment in order to devise a care plan to assist in your recovery. It is important that you work with your therapist to devise this care plan to in order to improve your health. Treatment may include either deep or shallow massage, trigger point therapy and stretches.

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I have had cancer surgery but have not had any swelling in my arm or leg. Why should I see a lymphoedema therapist if there is not a problem?

Firstly, not all cancer surgery involves lymph nodes, so speak to your specialist about your individual risk. I mainly see people following breast, groin, head and neck surgery.

Research actually tells us that we should have an assessment prior to surgery as early intervention is the key to good preventative treatment. After surgery changes may be very subtle and it is difficult to know if a problem is developing.

Early limb measurements and range of movement assessment can detect early changes and ensure you are getting the right exercises and self care management plan. Some people have poor arm movement or have uneven limb measurements prior to surgery so how can you tell if a problem is developing. One of the things my clients often say is  ‘I wish someone told me about this stuff earlier!’

What is my risk of breast cancer related lymphoedema?

Your risk depends on your individual situation. In many cases your risk will be very low.  You should discuss this with your surgeon.

The most recent information from 2018/19 tells us that risk depends on:

  • Number of axillary lymph nodes removed. Ask your surgeon about the type of surgery (sentinel node or axillary clearance) and how many nodes were taken.
  • Radiotherapy to the axilla and or clavicular nodes
  • Taxane chemotherapy
  • Post operative infection
  • Recurrent seroma
  • Activity level. Movement is good whereas inactivity is not so good

There are a few other minor things which can affect your risk but these are the main ones. Some you can change but others you cannot. PLEASE – do not go and  start an aerobic exercise program or weight program. These things need to be started slowly and under supervision; especially if you are still undergoing treatment.

What is a seroma?

A seroma is a pocket of clear fluid that sometimes develops in the body after surgery. It may go away on its own within a few weeks or months. as the body slowly reabsorbs the fluid. If it is large or painful your specialist may order it to be drained. It is not dangerous but can be annoying.

Can lymphoedema be cured?

Lymphoedema is a chronic condition so I have to say no, it cannot be cured. However, like diabetes (another chronic condition), if you have a good self management plan the effects of this condition can decrease.

Current research tells us that lymph nodes do not grow back but lymphatic pathways can be encouraged to work better with gentle treatment therapies.

Good skin care, regular exercise and lymphatic exercises along with other self care techniques can bring about excellent results and minimalise the effect on your daily life.

Your question can be posted here.

I have included the most asked questions on this page.

If you have a question you feel I may help with, please do not hesitate to call me.

Call Vermont Health and Lifestyle on 9873 3351 and they will contact me with your question or organise an initial assessment appointment.

I can alo be contacted via facebook.