If you’ve recently been diagnosed with lymphedema, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is your best bet to living a full and active life. Here’s all the info you need to feel good and keep those flare-ups at bay.
What is the most effective treatment for lymphedema?
Lymphedema therapy, also known as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), is one of the most highly effective, non-invasive treatments for lymphedema. It is implemented by physical therapists specifically trained in lymphedema therapy, who offer hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. CDT may include therapeutic exercise, compression bandaging, manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) and other methods to reduce swelling, improve the condition of skin, and increase mobility.
CDT consists of two stages: active and maintenance. The active phase begins with intensive therapy in a medical setting with your specially trained therapist. It includes MLD, which utilizes gentle stretching and specific massage techniques to stimulate the lymphatic system. You’ll receive prescribed exercise routines, weight control plans, and healthy skin care techniques, plus education and instruction in self-massage.
Maintenance therapy begins in a medical setting where your therapists will teach you the steps you need to take at home in order to reduce flare ups. It includes the exercises you learn in the intensive portion, and the continued use of custom-fit compression garments. Long term management of lymphedema symptoms can help you live an active, healthy lifestyle.
What are some other ways that I can improve lymphatic drainage?
- Acupuncture stimulates lymph flow and also helps with drainage.
- Dry brushing removes dead skin cells from the affected area. Use a natural bristle brush and make upwards, circular strokes for 10 minutes, then take a shower. If your legs are affected, start at the ankle and work your way up.
- Drink plenty of water – calculate about half of your body weight into ounces to find your perfect amount for daily consumption. This will help you avoid dehydration and will also aid in drainage.
- Eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties like leafy green vegetables, ground flaxseeds, ground chia seeds, avocados, and nuts.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing. This can reduce circulation in your lymphatic system and cause blockages or flare-ups.
- Practice appropriate self-massage, unless you are suffering from a skin infection, blood clots or active cancer. This video by an accredited physical therapist can help.
How does compression help lymphedema?
Compression treatment reduces swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid. It puts pressure on the area of swelling and helps trapped fluid flow through the lymph vessels and drain out of the area. The Tutu Project founder, Linda Carey, swears by Lymphedivas, compression garments from a company created and founded by women with lymphedema.
Compression garments may fall under the durable medical equipment benefit, so your insurance company may pay for them. If you are not covered, there are still affordable ways to get compression garments.
How does massage help lymphedema?
Lymphatic drainage massage can enhance the benefits of compression bandages and help ease mild to moderate symptoms, especially post-surgery. All of the techniques used in lymphatic drainage massages include gentle movements to stretch the skin in the direction of lymph flow. Your therapist will typically use not only massage, but stretching, compressing, gliding, and cupping, all with light rhythmic movements that stimulate the lymphatic system so the fluid moves easily through nodes and tissues.
How does dry brushing help lymphatic drainage?
Dry brushing, a self-massage technique that utilizes a natural bristle brush, helps move and eliminate lymph fluid towards the core. Not only does it reduce swelling, but it enhances circulation and detoxification, and exfoliates skin, increasing circulation to the skin’s surface. Dry brushing supports proper function of the lymphatic system when done consistently over time.
This brush should have a large head size and natural fibers, and be slightly soft, but stiff enough that the bristles don’t bend. If you’re attempting to dry brush your face or neck, you’ll want a brush with a smaller head and softer bristles that slightly bend.
Most practitioners recommend dry brushing in the morning before a shower. Start with upwards, circular motions and work your way up the body (if massaging legs) or towards your heart (if massaging arms, neck, or stomach). Avoid brushing over moles, warts, or raised bumps.
After you’re done dry brushing, take a shower, warm enough to increase blood flow, and finishing with cold water to help drain your lymphatic system. Pat yourself dry and apply a natural moisturizer.
Clean your dry brush with soap and water every week. Let it fully dry before dry brushing your skin again.
Do lymph drainage bracelets and lymphatic drops work?
Research studies tend to discourage the use of bracelets and drops. Consult your health care practitioner when considering any alternative treatments or products.
Do I need to change my diet when diagnosed with lymphedema?
Eating more whole-foods and drinking plenty of water helps you avoid dehydration and promotes natural drainage. Here are a few foods that have been shown to help with natural drainage and lymphatic health:
- Sweet potatoes
- Chia seeds
- Green leafy vegetables — including spinach, kale, collard greens, and arugula
- Extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil
- Nuts — especially macadamia and brazil nuts
These foods are shown to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and magnesium, which are all beneficial nutrients for people with lymphedema. They aid in reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, and promoting heart health.
Minimize your intake of refined grains, meat, and dairy as they tend to cause inflammation in the joints, lymphatic system, and immune system.
Although maintenance and treatment for lymphedema may be a part of your life, it doesn’t mean it has to stand in the way of your health and happiness. You can manage this condition with a good diet, exercise, massage therapy, and more. Take on these healthy habits to help you thrive in life!