I first heard of lymphedema when I worked on a surgical floor at a hospital. I asked the nurse what she taught the patients about when they were about to undergo a mastectomy. She explained to me that there were side effects from having lymph vessels removed. That was the first time I heard of the lymph functions other than the tonsils.
When I studied Massage Therapy they discussed the lymph system briefly. I was surprised the instructors didn’t spend more time on it because of what I had learned while working in the hospital. They mentioned you shouldn’t apply much pressure to the arm etc, but not much information about how to help a Breast Cancer survivor. I think at that time there weren’t as many long-term breast cancer survivors to run into in the general population.
These days I encounter women that have survived breast cancer all the time. Because so many of them have passed through my practice, I began to investigate and teach myself more about ways I could help them.
When I was working in the hospital, and for years after that, physicians used to discourage woman from over using the arm and did not encourage weight training. That’s just how they were trained. Years later research revealed that weight training was the most helpful thing they could do. It makes sense if you notice the placement of the lymph vessels are just under the skin and activated by muscular movement.
How does this relate to activities such as qi gong or Tai chi?
Both modalities are slow moving and precise. Because of the purposeful efforts of reaching and contracting the arms, lymph flow is assisted and that reduces swelling.
The dangerous results of not reducing the swelling is stagnation which lead to cellulitis. When stagnant the lymph thickness and hardens the connective tissue, and pushes up through the skin. Destroying the protective layers of skin and opening the body to infection.
It is certainly worth the effort of trying these modalities to avoid the irreversible damage to the skin.