Lymphedema is a condition that may seem evasive or mystical. I regularly see women with lymphedema, or those at risk of developing it, and am often asked, “How do I prevent it from happening or getting worse?” Part of the mystery is the lack of understanding of the steps you can take to help yourself.
Create your own awareness and “know your limb.” You can reduce your risk of getting lymphedema or making it worse by being aware of changes in your at-risk limb. Train yourself to do life in ways that will reduce the risk. It becomes an automatic response; second nature – just like brushing your teeth every morning.
- Have blood pressure and blood draws taken on the unaffected arm or leg.
- Wear your watch on the unaffected arm. Avoid tight rings, bracelets or jewelry.
- Avoid acupuncture on the affected area.
- Avoid clothing that is too tight – especially socks that can bind at the ankle or under the knee.
- Open heavy doors carefully. Use both arms or turn your back to it and push with your whole body.
- See a dermatologist for any skin issues.
- Try to avoid bug bites - use repellent and try not to scratch if you get a bite. Keep anti-itch cream handy.
- Moisturize affected limb daily with lotion like Lubriderm or Eucerin, etc.
- When doing outdoor activities like gardening, wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves.
- Use sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
- On hot days, reschedule outdoor activities for a cooler day or break down the time spent in the heat into smaller increments.
- Avoid excessive heat like hot tubs, steam rooms and extremely hot yoga rooms.
- Be selective about where you get mani's and pedi's. Request cuticles be pushed back instead of cut.
- Lighten your load. Keep elbows slightly bent when carrying something heavy, and use the unaffected arm as often as you can. Divide contents between 2 bags or purses.
- Buy shredded cheese and pre-cut veggies when possible, or get friends and family to help. Reduce the amount of time you spend with a knife in your hand!
- Avoid heavy housework such as vacuuming and scrubbing.
- Keep pets’ claws trimmed. Wear gloves and long sleeves when appropriate, such as bath time, trimming nails, giving meds, etc.
- Avoid hard pressure massage. Request a light-touch massage. If your massage therapist doesn’t know this, find one who does.It is best to allow only lymphatic drainage experts to touch your limb.
- Reduce your salt and fat intake as both can cause swelling, and fat deposits left in the space between tissues makes it difficult for fluid to pass through and into lymphatic vessels.
Susan Gee, LMT, NCTMB specializes in massage for cancer patients in Dallas, TX. She has been practicing massage since 2007 and says, "Working with cancer patients has taken my work deeper into the meaning of life. It has transformed me from the inside out." You can find out more about Susan at Progressive Massage Therapy. Please leave a comment or give us a call at: 214-773-2837.