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Preventive Care for Reducing your Risk of Lymphedema

Has your doctor told you that you might be at risk of lymphedema? Perhaps you’ve been through cancer treatment that involved lymph node biopsy or removal, or radiation therapy. Or maybe you have gone through a serious injury or burn.  Lymphedema can occur after something damages the lymphatic system. Since the lymphatic system moves fluid though the body, injury to it can make the fluid not flow properly. This can lead to abnormal swelling that develops past the injury point.

Fortunately, there are many easy preventive care steps you can take to lessen your chance of developing long-term swelling.  Here are some basic steps for reducing your risk of lymphedema. Of course, staying consistent in your self care is key to maintaining the desired results.

Skin Care

Risk Factors: Infections, exposure to extreme temperatures

Protect your skin from injury and extreme heat and cold. Your skin is often dryer in areas affected by lymphedema and more susceptible to damage or infection. Even things like small cuts, bug bites, and sunburns can create more risk. So here are a few simple things you can do to protect your skin. You can keep your nails trimmed to avoid scratching yourself. Going forward, you can switch to receiving injections on a limb that has no damage. Use sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Similarly, you can use a fragrance-free, low-pH lotion such as Eucerin or Aquaphor to moisturize and help prevent infections. Avoid things like the hot tub or sauna.

Nutrition and Exercise

Risk factors: too much salt, inactivity, obesity

No specific diet exists for people with a higher risk of lymphedema, but most nutritionists recommend a low-sodium, low-fat diet. Eating too much salt can lead to swelling.

Doing exercise and muscle movement will help regulate lymph flow. The pumping of your muscles helps pump the fluid. You can do any type of gentle movement that your doctor approves. Walking, swimming, and yoga are great ways to get the body moving. However, think about avoiding high-impact activities like boxing that can damage tissues. Don’t forget to wear your compression garment while exercising! The combined movement plus compression gives you extra oomph.

Lastly on this topic, obesity is known to contribute to stress on the lymphatic system. So managing your weight through healthy eating and activity can help lower your risk factors.

What (not) to wear

Risk factors: constriction

You’re trying to avoid things that press on the area. So, avoid wearing tight clothing, especially tight undergarments. Even check that your jewelry is not too tight. Switch your blood pressure tests to a different limb. Get a good fitting compression garment with the guidance of a professional and then wear it. Rather than constricting, these garments move with you to massage the area. Wash your compression garment regularly, and replace it every six months. Check in every year or so to make sure you still have the best compression wear for your needs.

Air Travel

Risk factors: pressure change, inactivity

If you take a trip by air, you can double down on all your self care. Make sure you wear your compression gear and move as much as possible. At mealtime, watch your salt and stay hydrated. Wear loose, comfortable clothing, and try to arrange for seating with more leg room, if possible.

Although having an elevated risk should be taken very seriously, there are many daily habits that can help in reducing your risk of lymphedema. These are just a few ideas to get you started, however, your care team or CLT can give you further guidance. Oh yeah, and if you are getting massage or exercise with an elevated risk, be sure to let your person know so they can plan accordingly!

Related Topics:

Oncology Massage, Lymphatic Massage


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Post op lymphatic massage can help ease recovery

If you have had plastic surgery, your doctor probably recommended post op lymphatic massage. Also called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), lymphatic massage is a light-pressure technique that assists the flow of fluid away from a swollen area by using your body’s own systems. Unlike a Swedish or therapeutic massage, the lymphatic therapist uses a very gentle touch that stretches the skin and stimulates the lymph nodes.  

Post op MLD is not incisional drainage and should never hurt. This work draws swelling fluid towards the kidneys so that you basically pee it out. It does not involve opening surgical sites or pushing fluid to drains or openings. It can support recovery from any type of cosmetic procedure– liposuction, BBL, tummy tuck, gynecomastia reduction, gender confirmation surgery, etc…

What to expect from a post op lymphatic massage session 

Week one post op usually involves one or two sessions depending on which procedure you had. As a general rule of thumb, low volume lipo may require fewer sessions than other surgeries. The goal of the first couple of sessions is to move fluid which will reduce pain and swelling, lessen bruising, and promote healing. The therapist will use MLD techniques only. 

Similarly, week two post op focuses on draining lymphatic fluid back into the system and relieving pain and swelling. Depending on your speed of healing, gentle massage strokes may be introduced in this or the following week.  

Week three post op and beyond your therapist may start using additional techniques. Your therapist may incorporate warm stones, light massage techniques, and gentle cupping. Depending on your healing, these sessions may also focus on reducing “tight” or “hard spots” that have developed during the post-op healing process. Some procedures, like a tummy tuck, require a longer healing time before moving to this stage.

Post op MLD at Nimbus

Generally, we recommend about 45 minutes of hands-on treatment for your first session. We start before you come in with gathering information from you about your procedure, your healing so far, and your health background. At your first session, you will talk with your therapist about this information, any questions you have, and your areas of focus. The therapist will use their knowledge combined with your input, to develop a safe and comfortable session. In some cases, we may use special positioning to protect your procedure. For example, after BBL surgery, we use a special cushioning system to keep your butt lifted off the table. After tummy tuck, we use a cushioning to keep you from laying flat. During your session, your therapist will be happy to answer any questions that might come up. Afterwards, they will review with you and discuss future steps. Clients regularly report feeling less pain, less stiffness, and better movement after just one session.

At Nimbus we understand that plastic surgery can be life-changing and affirming. We also know that your body goes through a lot after surgery and requires a healing process. We work with each of you to create a personalized massage plan that supports you. No one-size-fits-all packages and no aggressive treatments– just you and your therapist working toward wellness. 


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