The lymphatic system is an extremely important system in our body. However, it is a system that is not well known by many people. The lymph system absorbs, transports, and recycles products from the interstitial space (tissue space). The products in the lymph system include proteins, water, cells, fats, cell debris, white blood cells, cancer cells, bacteria, viruses, and many others only the lymph can handle. Lymph vessels are mainly located at the skin and subcutaneous layer and can be found throughout the entire body. Although only 10% of body fluid is via the lymph and only 1-2 Liter of fluid will be transported via the lymph system per day, it is critical to maintain the proper lymphatic circulation and flow to prevent swelling/edema.
Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid leading to swelling, inflammation, and fibrosis of the affected areas. When there is a decrease in lymphatic fluid transport capacity, lymphedema may develop over time. Due to the delay of protein transportation, the proteins in the interstitial space will begin attracting water towards the skin surface, leading to protein-rich edema/swelling. Development of lymphedema usually is slow onset, progressive, and pitting (indentation of the skin when applying pressure).
Symptoms usually start distally and progress proximally, and people may experience symptoms of discomfort, heaviness, tightness of the skin, and a change in skin integrity. Common lymphedema is secondary lymphedema due to the result of surgery, side effects of radiation therapy for cancer, and/or after an injury, scarring, trauma, or infection of the lymphatic system.
Common symptoms of lymphedema include:
Discomfort or pain
Thickening of skin
Decreased range of motion
If you are having any concern or additional questions regarding lymphedema, there are health care professionals that can assist you. A certified Lymphedema Therapist can help you identify and manage your symptoms to improve your quality of life.
One of the most basic lymphatic drainage techniques is called dry brushing. It's very simple and doesn't require any special equipment besides a hand towel or washcloth. Be sure that lymphatic drainage is the right treatment for you and always consult your healthcare practitioner before adding any kind of exercise or treatment to your regimen.
If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, please reach out to a certified lymphedema therapist, like me. :)
Dr. Yvonne Huang