Oncology (Cancer) Massage - Part 2: What’s the Deal With Lymphedema?
Jun 10, 2011 12:08PM
By By: Jenifer Funk, BME, LMT, NMT, CCMT, NCTMB
Have you ever been out in public and noticed someone with a compression garment on their arm or leg and wondered what may have happened to them? One possible answer is that the person suffers from lymphedema, a condition in the body where there is persistent swelling due to a blockage of the lymph passages.
After speaking with a number of licensed massage therapists, many of them were not aware that lymphedema is often a side effect of treatment for breast cancer, where one or more lymph nodes are routinely removed in addition to breast tissue. Lymphedema, once it occurs, is often a chronic disease that requires lifelong management. Treatment includes compression with multi-layered bandages, manual lymph drainage (MLD), and range of motion exercises designed by a physical therapist or other lymph specialist.
Remember back to the days of Anatomy and Physiology class in massage school when the instructor was discussing lymph “watersheds”? The body is divided into lymph “watershed” quadrants, which include the region from the clavicles up to the top of the head, the region from the waist down the lower extremities, and the region from the clavicles down to the waist, which is divided by a vertical line splitting this area into two regions of equal right and left sides.
If a breast cancer client comes to you for massage therapy and she has had a “sentinel node biopsy” where even just one lymph node was removed and/or radiation therapy to her axillary region, extreme care needs to be exercised and light pressure used when working not only on her arm, but also the entire quadrant, which extends from her front around to her back. If too much pressure is used, or even heat from hydrotherapy or a table warmer is utilized, it can tax the lymph system in that quadrant resulting in lymphedema.
It is also increasingly popular for organizations to offer chair massage at cancer walks/events. There is much discussion among the S4OM (Society for Oncology Massage) regarding the safety of performing chair massage on breast cancer clients at these events due to the increased risk of lymphedema since pressure is put on the upper extremities while the client is in a massage chair. Please take the training necessary to safely work on “special populations” clients. Not only will your clients appreciate it but you will have a much safer, more fulfilling massage therapy practice.
Jenifer Funk, BME, LMT, NMT, CCMT, NCTMB, is an Oncology Massage Therapy Practitioner and Instructor at her practice, Abundant Life Massage Inc., at 665 S. Orange Ave. in downtown Sarasota. You may reach her via email at: [email protected] or by phone: 941-356-0587.