I am a licensed Massage Therapist. But please don’t think of me as someone you go to at a posh Health Club once every few months. In my field of Massage, I also practice preventative medicine modality. I often work on generally healthy bodies and hope to help them stay that way.
But what about the clients I have worked with for years? Some of whom are now beginning to manifest ailments of the aging? I may have started working on a 65 year old when I first began my practice and he or she is now 88 years old. I was helping my massage client/friend get through a knee replacement when we found out that she had to undergo a mastectomy. She also had to have radiation therapy, just shortly after she had barely healed from a joint replacement. With no family nearby to help I dove in and did my best. She recovered fairly well and went on with her busy life. Everything looked good until she fell. A couple of days later she called me and said: “Val, I think I hurt my hand it’s all swollen”. I advised her to get that checked imediately, and when she did the doctor’s diagnosis was lymphedema, a sad side effect of surviving breast cancer and lymph node removal.
In Massage school we learned the basics of the lymphatic system. I was taught that the lymphatic system essentially acts like highway for our body fluids. It is a network which exists just under the dermis layer, and keeping this highway flowing is one of the benefits of massage. As I said, I was taught about the Lymphatic system in my training as a massage therapist, but in most massage therapy classes the focus is more on muscles and how to relax them, so the Lymphatic system was not discussed at length.
When my friend went to a Physical Therapist who specialized in manual lymphatic drainage, I went in the hope I could learn some things into my practice, and in this case, I needed to learn how to help her going forward. I learned the specific massage and wrapping technique to use on her and I do this procedure for her on a regular basis. As part of the Lymphoma treatment, she was prescribed compression stocking to be worn which would help to keep swelling under control, but because she has rheumatoid arthritis, it made wearing the compression too painful.
We had to design a care plan that would serve her needs. I see her on a daily basis to assist in her daily morning activities. I arrive early in the morning, get her going for the day, and return each evening. I hypothesized that if we performed the lymphatic drainage massage in the mornings, along with some reflexology on her feet, we could relieve the congestion enough to get her through the day. Each evening I wrap her in the special bandages that act like a pump system for the trapped lymph in her arm. This has been the most beneficial treatment plan. However if we do not wrap the arm, for one day it fills back up to a painful point that is hard for her to recover from. Battling this with her on a daily basis has been an educational experience. I have been allowed to apply massage, as a medicine in a way not usually afforded me.
Unlike a medical practitioner she might visit for a specific pain, I know her various issues well enough to not simply treat the spot that is hurting at the moment. With Jeanne, for example, I have noticed that her arm will often become inflamed because she is fighting an infection elsewhere in her body. If she has neglected to take the medication which keeps her colon issues from flairing up, that will be enough to cause the Lymphedema elsewhere in her system. Rather than simply attempt to treat the Lymphedema, I will ensure she gets back on the regular schedule with her colon meds, that special med (that she forgot about since last time her colon was inflamed) and I will work the reflex points in her feet.
This is an approach of teamwork and inclusion of medicines with bodywork and careful monitoring. (I can tell if she has the slightest temp or a change in her wellness) We have probably saved thousand of Medicare dollars because we avoid extreme illness by staving it off preventively. The immune system is dependant on the lymphatic system like New York is on subways. Things get stuck and backed up when the vessels are destroyed. There are two fluids in the body, blood and lymph. It most important that lymph not remain stagnant in the connective tissue, this can break down the skin causing cellulitis.
The bandage patterns we use are similar to a tool made with palm leaves by people living in the jungle. It was used to expel the water and fluids that are toxic in the root that they are transforming into bread like food. Once the root is dry it can be processed into tortilla over a fire. I noticed it on TV once and wondered if that’s how the German Physician thought up the bandaging system.
Here in Brevard County, there are only two Physical Therapist I know of who are certified to perform the treatment of Manual Lymphatic Drainage. The Physical Therapist assigned to my client was most helpful and encouraged us to learn and keep up with Lymphatic wraps for my client. Here, in Brevard County and the Melbourne area specifically, there are several Massage Therapist who have studied MLD and are even certified. Unfortunately most insurance companies will not cover the cost of treatments by Massage Therapists, they only cover the costs when treatment is provided by a licensed Physical Therapist.
As someone who has brought together many different facets of treatment to help my client effectively control her Lymphedema, I would welcome the opportunity to share information or volunteer to help others in our community that are suffering from this ailment!!
speak out, let’s do it together.
Senior Care Provider