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Edema Massage

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Find out how getting a massage for edema can help reduce swelling and fluid retention.

As defined by Medline Plus, in a publication of the National Institutes of Health, edema is a type of swelling caused by trapped fluid within the body's tissues. 

It is essential to identify the underlying cause of edema to develop a proper treatment plan. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may recommend taking diuretics and using home remedies to remove excess fluid from body tissues and effectively treat edema. 

What Are The Causes Of Edema?

Normally, the body removes excess fluid before it builds up, but several factors may lead to edema. Some are temporary such as edema caused by pregnancy. Other forms of edema may be caused by a serious underlying health concern such as heart, liver, or kidney disease. 

Temporary conditions of edema may occur to most people at some point in their lifetime and may be easily treated by massage therapy. 

However, if the edema is caused by a more serious condition, then your priority should be to see a physician for a complete diagnosis of the cause. 

How Does Massage Therapy Work? 

Massage therapy works by directing pressure to the skin and muscle areas affected by edema. The lymphatic system is activated during the process and the fluid drains away naturally. 

The activation of the lymph nodes is the key to getting the body to naturally drain away from the excess fluid accumulation that causes edema.

Lymph Edema Massage 

The lymphedema massage, also known as Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) or Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT), is a gentle form of massage that helps the body's lymphatic system start moving again while reinforcing the immune function. 

You may probably have to schedule more than one session and discuss your symptoms clearly with the massage therapist. Your massage therapist can also show you some self-massage techniques that you can use between appointments. 

Anyone wanting to address issues of musculature, as well as lymph, must try 20-30 minutes of deep tissue massage, followed by 20-30 minutes of lymph massage. 

Manual Lymphatic Drainage

This is a special type of massage introduced by Emil Vodder, a Danish massage practitioner. It involves employing the lymphatic system to drain fluids from the area affected by edema.

Generally, the massage is gentle and done in the direction of the heart. The technique used has since been improved upon by Bruno Chikly, a French doctor.

In the new system, lymph flow is classified by rhythm, depth, and pressure. A lymphatic map now makes it possible for massage practitioners to better relieve edema.

The basic principle of manual lymphatic drainage as practiced now involves massaging the body parts nearer (proximal) to the heart before the parts farther away (distal). This technique was introduced following a clearer understanding of the lymphatic system.

It is important to massage proximal areas first to clear the path for the flow of fluids when the distal parts are massaged. If the distal parts were massaged first, the drainage will only move the edema from one part of the body to another since the path to the lymph nodes will be obstructed.

After a manual lymphatic massage, the area affected by the edema should be wrapped in low-stretch bandages. This is necessary to support the connective tissue and maintain a constant pressure that inhibits the further accumulation of fluids.

Massage or manual lymphatic drainage is not recommended for all types of edema. It is especially useful for lymphedema and pedal edema.

Generalized edema, on the other hand, is likely due to cardiac insufficiency or liver or kidney problems. For such edemas, massage may actually worsen the situation. It is, therefore, important to ask your doctor before you try to treat your edema with manual lymphatic drainage.

Even for edemas that are treatable with massage, a detailed patient history is still necessary. The massage practitioner must know when the edema started, how extensive it is, and what caused it.

Other information needed by the massage therapist includes any previous or current treatment the edema patient is receiving, the presence or absence of skin infections, the condition of the skin, the state of sensory perception, and the hardness of the edema.

This information will help the therapist modify the treatment plan to better suit the patient.

How It Is Done

The first step of manual lymphatic drainage is to raise the limb affected by the edema for 10 to 15 minutes. The downward push of gravity can help reduce the edema even before the massage commences.

The limb affected by the edema should be elevated above the level of the heart and supported throughout the massage.

The massaging strokes should start from the proximal parts of the body. They should follow the lymph map of the area affected.

If the upper limb is affected, the strokes should move towards the axilla (the hollow under the arm where it joins the shoulder). If the edema affects the chest, the strokes should move towards the neck and axilla on both sides. If the edema is found in the legs, the strokes should move upwards towards the groin region.

To improve blood flow as well as lymph flow, passive and active exercise should be recommended depending on the degree of mobility of the patient.

This is especially important for those who have suffered chronic edema since the protein organization of their connective tissue would most likely cause fibrosis and the thickening of the skin. Exercises will help reverse the stiffness.

Manual lymphatic drainage takes time to produce results. However, even though the size of edema may not reduce quickly, other symptoms such as pain and stiffness will improve immediately.

Massage sessions should be more at the beginning until the edema has been reduced and kept down. Thereafter, the number of sessions can be gradually reduced while the patient is taught some self-massage techniques to use at home.

Manual lymphatic drainage should be combined with other edema treatments for maximum benefit and the quick resolution of edema.

Massage During Pregnancy

Prenatal massage has been used for centuries to reduce stress, improve overall health, and relieve muscle tension. Pregnant women have often received ambivalent responses from the health community, regarding the purpose and safety of massage during pregnancy.

Studies have proved that prenatal massage therapy can be a very instrumental tool in women’s prenatal care and should be given careful consideration. It is always best to find a therapist who is certified in prenatal massage.

A study published in the International Journal of Nursing Practice in 2010 details the benefits of foot massage in reducing pedal edema in late pregnancy.

A group of 80 pregnant women participated in the study in Turkey. These women were divided into two: one group received a 20-minute foot massage for five days while the other group did not.

After the fifth day, the women’s edematous legs were examined. The circumferences of the ankles, insteps, and the joints of the metatarsals and phalanges were measured. Those who received foot massages had smaller lower leg circumferences than the women in the other group.

Benefits of Massage Therapy

There are many benefits of massage therapy, such as increasing blood circulation, reducing swelling, relaxing muscles, and relieving muscle spasms.

Massage therapy focuses on the specific parts of the body where the swelling occurs, such as the feet, ankles, or legs. It helps you experience a healthier lifestyle free from discomfort and pain associated with swelling.

Studies indicate that massage therapy performed during pregnancy may lessen anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, ease muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health.

Other Treatment Methods 

After the root cause of edema is treated, you may still have to deal with the swelling. There are various ways to address edema directly: 

Compression therapy involves wearing tight socks or garments that actually squeeze the excess fluids out of the edema affected areas of the body. 

Changes in diet, and taking prescription drugs or diuretics, can also help remove excess fluid. You should also avoid some foods such as white flour foods, processed foods, sugary foods and drinks, coffee, black tea, and alcohol

Massage therapy is a natural and effective way to reduce the symptoms of edema without any side effects. You may also consider taking a fluid retention remedy such as Capisette, which is an effective alternative to prescription diuretics.

Next Article: Edema Diet: Foods to Avoid for Edema