Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Compression Bandaging (not ACE wraps) are now widely accepted as the gold standard in edema management in national and international conferences and symposia. Gone are the days of retrograde massage, pneumatic compression pumps, and ACE wraps only.
The lymphatic system is comprised of delicate vessels just below the skin. They assist the venous system in returning fluid back to the heart. When there is an overload of fluid due to an injury or surgery, the venous system has a hard time taking back an extra load, because it is a “closed loop” with the arterial vessels, (think train track around a Christmas tree). However, the lymphatic vessels are “open loop”. This open network of vessels has no work to do sending fluid out into the interstitial space, they just hang out-waiting to accept and transport fluid.
"The catch is, there is no central pump in the lymphatics like the heart in the cardiovascular system. Therefore, muscle contraction is the biggest mover of lymphatic fluid but what about an athlete that has an acute injury or just had a surgery?"
Their muscle pump is greatly affected, so all the fluid that was sent to the injured site to protect and heal gets stuck. That’s where MLD and compression come in. We can QUICKLY and effectively move the fluid out, decrease edema and pain and allow more motion, then progress BACK to the muscle pumping to keep the fluid out.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage is one of the few manual techniques that we can use when a client is swollen and bruised. If we try to use the deep tissue or even a light form of manual work, we collapse and bypass those delicate lymphatic vessels that can carry the excess fluid out of the space and we are just working in the fascia and or muscle, which is not where the primary concern is an acute injury.
Lymphedema has been one of the hardest, yet most integral aspects of my life. I believe it has given me the necessary skills and drive to strive to be influential in the lymphedema community. It has truly provided me an avenue to reach and help those around me. So, stay tuned, there will be many more lymphie adventures ahead!
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