The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and is linked closely to the circulatory system. It is comprised of lymph nodes or glands throughout the body, which are connected by a network of lymphatic vessels.
Its functions are to remove waste and toxins, transport excess fluid from the body and it contains cells which fight infection and disease.
We know that the circulatory system is responsible for transporting oxygen, nutrients, hormones etc. to the tissues in the body and also for the removal of metabolic waste products such as carbon dioxide, urea and lactic acid.
Historically, it had been assumed that most of the fluid entering the tissues was returned to the blood system via re-absorption into the venous capillaries with only 10% of the fluid being returned by the lymphatic system.
With improved technology, recent surveys have now shown this to be wrong. In fact, most of the fluid removal is the responsibility of the lymphatic network of vessels, highlighting the importance of this system.
What is Lymphoedema ?
There are two types of Lymphoedema, Primary and Secondary.
Primary Lymphoedema is normally determined from birth (congenital) and is caused by an inefficient functioning/underdeveloped lymphatic system. Its onset may develop without obvious cause at different stages in life, often in adolescence or into adulthood.
Secondary Lymphoedema occurs due to outside influences which prevent the Lymphatic system from working properly. Such influences include:
- Cancer treatment; radiation, lymph node removal
- Damage to the lymph vessels from accidental trauma/injury
- Recurrent infections where lymph nodes are damaged or removed
If any part of the lymphatic system becomes damaged and its function impaired, then the circulation of fluid becomes compromised. Stagnant fluid backs up in to the tissues, cellular functioning is hugely reduced and waste/toxins cannot be removed. Lymphoedema occurs.
How does Lymphoedema progress ?
Lymphoedema is a condition that normally progresses/increases the longer it is left untreated. It may be very light initially, barely noticeable even, becoming worse as time goes on.
It is important to take steps at this early stage to try and reduce the swelling and prevent it from getting any worse, as left untreated it will become more permanent. Due to the build-up of proteins and fluid in the tissues, the area affected will feel increasingly hard and solid.
MLD treatment is required to encourage the lymph fluid to flow towards healthy unaffected nodes through alternative drainage routes, and so reduce swelling in the affected area.