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Myofascial Release for Lymphedema or Swelling/Edema Problems?

Well hello there!

We’ve received some questions recently regarding whether any of our Therapists provide Lymphatic Massage or can help with Lymphedema so I thought I’d send this out as a reference for you and your loved ones. I hope this might help you or someone you care about! 

First of all, what is lymphedema?

Here’s a great article from Mayo.

That being said, many people without lymphedema can benefit from improved drainage of and better movement within their lymphatic system. For example:

  • Cancer patients after surgery, radiation or chemo, especially if any lymph nodes were removed (most common example of this is breast cancer patients); improved lymphatic drainage helps to prevent lymphedema from developing
  • Patients with lyme, mold toxicity issues, etc; improved flow of this system means it’s much easier for the body to clear toxins and heal
  • Patients with swelling (edema) of any sort
  • Post-op patients with swelling

Four Different Option for Treatment

  1. John Barnes’ Myofascial Release: The fascial system is estimated to exert pressure or ‘squeeze’ on various parts of our bodies with forces up to 2,000 pounds per square inch (literally, a ton of pressure!) If this is happening anywhere in the body, flow of the lymphatic system is often greatly limited. Think of this as a ‘kink in the garden hose’ of the lymphatic vessels of the body. We’ve had great success performing myofascial release along key areas for lymphatic drainage with some (not all) patients experiencing resolution of their symptoms. There are many different factors that contribute to lymphedema and/or edema/swelling, including circulation issues, whether the tissues are ‘stretched out’ and require a compression garment (more details below), etc. This approach helps with one key piece of the puzzle. Think of this approach as ‘removing the blockage in the system’ so things can flow better. It’s helpful for both improving symptoms and for prevention.  Happily, we offer this at Balance Within PT! And it has been a huge game changer for myself with Lyme, let me tell you!
  1. Breathwork training: The diaphragm is known as the ‘pump of the lymphatic system’. If the diaphragm is stuck and not moving properly, we will struggle with lymphatic drainage. Myofascial release can free up the diaphragm and ribs to move properly again. Breathwork training for proper diaphragmatic breathing patterns is especially helpful for individuals with lymphedema, looking to prevent the development of lymphedema, and/or with general swelling issues. Happily, we also offer this at Balance Within PT!
  1. Lymphedema Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist: This is a highly specialized medical certification. You can most often find PTs and OTs with this specialty within hospital systems. Doctor Megan and I have worked with several wonderful therapists with this certification at Aurora; especially their Mayfair and West Allis PT/OT clinic locations. Insurance will cover this type of treatment. These therapists will work with patients to teach them self treatment for lymphatic drainage, perform this work on the patient, work to move the fluid and can measure the patients for custom compression garments that may be necessary to reduce the size of a limb. Insurance will typically pay for all of this. These therapists specialize in the prevention of lymphedema for individuals who are high risk (ie: post-op mastectomy patient who had lymph nodes removed during their surgery) as well as helping individuals who already have lymphedema. If someone already has lymphedema, they should definitely be working with one of these therapists currently or should have in the past to be empowered with this knowledge.
  1. Lymphatic Massage: This is offered most typically by a Massage Therapist and is moreso for wellness. Individuals might seek out this type of a massage to help with detoxification of the body. It’s a gentle stroking of the skin to move lymph fluid from the limbs in general in the body to the core and then gentle oscillating motions throughout the abdomen to help the body resorb and further circulate these fluids. It’s very gentle and relaxing yet offers more temporary results.
  1. Does anyone at Balance Within offer Lymphatic Massage or Lymphedema Therapy? Yes and no. All of our PTs do have some training in Lymphatic Massage and incorporate this work into our patient care as needed. Our Myofascial Release Specialty is also a HUGE help for patients dealing with swelling and edema and circulatory issues. We certainly help support our patients and offer life changing care to them, and whenever it’s a situation that requires a different skillset than what we offer, we pride ourselves in our strong network of high quality providers in the Lake Country area and are happy to refer our patients to the right provider for their needs.

Hope that helps to answer some of those tricky questions! As always, please just HIT REPLY to this email if you have any more questions for me, that’s what we are here for! 🙂

All the best to you,

Sarah Trunk & The Balance Within PT Team


Doctors Jereme and Sarah Trunk

Balance Within Integrative Physical Therapy

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