Lymphoedema. Causes and Treatment
Lymphoedema is a condition where swelling occurs when the lymphatic system stops draining the tissues adequately.
Lymphoedema should not be confused with Lipoedema – a long-term condition where there’s an abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks, and sometimes in the arms.
However, Lipoedema can lead to lymphoedema, because the lymphatic system can struggle to cope in areas where fat has over-accumulated. This combination of the two conditions is known as lipo-lymphoedema.
Swollen skin caused by lymphoedema will pit or indent if you press it, but this doesn’t happen in cases of lipoedema.
Science has established a strong link between excess visceral fat and inflammation. When tissue senses an accumulation of fluid, there is a dramatic increase in both immune dysfunction and inflammation.
Inflammation can also be exacerbated by chronic stress, increasingly viewed as the culprit behind most modern-day illness. Whatever the cause of the inflammation, Chinese medicine can help.
How Chinese Medicine views Lymphoedema
In Chinese medicine, Lymphoedema is a disorder of the spleen and kidneys. Chinese Medicine views Lymphoedema as having a “yin” constitution and being a result of excess damp.
The kidneys are the water element of the body – and the kidney channel goes down into the legs. The kidney function in Chinese medicine is central in fluid management of the body. Kidney Deficiency will often manifest with ankle and knee swelling, soreness in the lower back, general fatigue, and often feeling cold.
The Chinese see the spleen as responsible for adapting food to nourish and support our system. This process is called ‘transportation and transformation’. The stronger our spleen function is, the better we are able to extract nourishment from any food to support our body’s needs. The spleen is responsible for upright qi, this means keeping things ‘up’ in the body. When everything sags, that is a sign of weak spleen qi.
Some people are more prone to damp than others, and this tendency can be aggravated by living in damp conditions or by a sedentary lifestyle. Eating in ways which inhibit our spleen function will increase our tendency towards damp.
Damp forming foods include:
- Ice, ice-cream, anything cold or straight out of the fridge!
- Beef and Pork
- Processed foods, sugar & sweeteners
- Concentrated juice
- Saturated fats
In general, try and avoid too many raw, cold, sweet and rich foods and too much fluid, especially cold water.
Warming foods on the other hand, include:
- green tea
How Hayo’u can help with Lymphoedema
At Hayo’u we believe in addressing not only your particular symptoms, but also the underlying stress and inflammation that’s creating or worsening the issue. Given the strong link between inflammation and Lymphoedema, try the Hayo’u Method to reduce stress and inflammation on a daily basis. It comprises simple techniques that relax the body, enable free-flow of circulation and assist detoxification by supporting the lymphatic system.
In addition to the basic method, we’ve suggested a few suggestions specific to Lymphoedema, which when practiced daily can help make a real difference.
To strengthen the kidney and spleen – practice the Hayo’u Method focussing on those areas. By this we mean for example, do the smiling breath of the Rescue Breath Ritual and send the intention into the relevant organ.
If you suffer from Lymphedema, please consult your GP before practising any of these techniques.
Rescue Breath Ritual
This simple but powerful technique stimulates the vagus nerve, which turns off your ‘fight or flight’ reflex and immediately relaxes the body. Crucially, there is also evidence that the vagus nerve combats inflammation, providing both instant and long-term benefit.
First, expel stale air by breathing in through the nose and purposefully out through the mouth 3 times whilst sticking out your tongue. (If you are in public you may have to skip this step!) In Chinese medicine this technique was traditionally used to physically expel heat (inflammation) via the breath, eliminating the need for the body to expel it via the skin.
With eyes closed, inhale deeply for 8 counts, hold for 4 and then exhale for 8 counts and hold for another 4. Let the mental energy descend to calm the mind and relax the body.
During exhalation, direct a smile into the spleen and kidneys. Remember, the spleen and kidneys are attributed to damp. This sends a positive mental intention to support the organs that need strengthening.
In Chinese medicine, you heal by strengthening the organs that need help. A great way to do this is with sound therapy. One of the oldest forms of sound therapy comes from the ancient Chinese practice of 6 healing sounds.
This works on the premise that specific sounds correspond to certain organs and energy channels in the body. Our organs and tissues are all different densities, each of which has a resonant frequency just like any other matter. Molecular bonds hold all matter together, and those bonds can loosen if vibrated at a particular frequency. Practitioners of sound therapy believe that gentle vibrations can be healing to the body at a cellular level.
The 6 healing sounds have been used for thousands of years in China and remain widely used today.
Take a deep breath, then exhale and make the sound ‘Whooooo’, which is the sound associated with the spleen. Remember that the sound should be made softly. Repeat for a minute. The sound for the kidneys is also beneficial for Lipoedema, this sound is ‘Choooo’. It sounds strange yes, but just give it a go and you may be surprised by the results!
Poor circulation creates chronic inflammation and leaves you feeling tired and sluggish. Regular practise of the Reset Ritual will rectify this and is brilliant to do on waking and, for example, every time you wash your hands throughout the day. (Tie it to something you already do to help remind you). A word of caution. Do not drum directly on areas affected by Lymphedema, as even the slightest touch on affected areas can worsen the problem.
Any exercise is great for boosting lymphatic drainage – every time we contract a muscle, the muscle rubs against numerous lymph vessels, stimulating them to contract. If you have Lymphedema, please proceed extremely gently and with the utmost care.
We usually advise shaking – but in the case of Lymphedema start by simply bobbing up and down, which will also do the trick. Shaking from top to bottom refreshes the body by invigorating the circulation, loosening stagnated blood and Qi. If bobbing feels fine, try shaking, very gently to start with and stop immediately if there’s any sensitivity.
Drumming builds on this feeling of invigoration, but in addition it benefits the immune system. It’s also known as stem cell Qi Gong as it stimulates stem cell production. Stem cells have the potential to regenerate and repair damaged tissue. Use a cupped hand and really slowly and gently, press and move your hand down the outside and up the inside of the legs and arms, around the abdomen, lower back, head and thymus (in between your breasts). The worse the condition the lighter and more gently you go. You can do this for as long as you like, just super gently. On unaffected areas you should be able to drum with vigour. However, start very slowly and gently with a cupped hand or even gentle fingertips, like a “pitter patter” movement and build up. Please do not touch any affected areas.
Twisting supports the digestion, one of the first systems to be affected by stress. Twisting at the waist compresses the digestive organs, which compromises function. When you release a rush of fresh blood flows in, bringing oxygen and fresh nutrients to the area.
Twist at the waist and swing your arms so your hands firmly pat the lower abdomen and back.
The Chinese have known for centuries that combining bathing with aromatic ingredients and minerals along with breathing techniques is hugely effective. If done correctly, this simple form of hydrotherapy is one of the easiest ways to improve health. Passive heating reduces inflammation by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels.
Mineral bathing (with magnesium rich salts such as our Hayo’u Mineral Bath) supports the excretory systems of the body, stimulating lymphatic activity by improving blood circulation in the lymph system.
In the bath houses of China, a specific routine is followed. Twenty minutes soaking in a very hot bath, followed by a cold shower, followed by exfoliation, focussing on the groin and armpit regions. The cold shower massively boosts both blood circulation and immune function, whilst exfoliation stimulates lymphatic drainage to excrete toxins.
Start really gently, build up the temperature only as much as is comfortable – and stay in your comfort zone. Get in the bath when it is a quarter full. Then bring the temperature up whilst the water is running. As the water temperature rises the sympathetic nerve becomes predominant, blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels all rise. Then, to correct this condition, the parasympathetic nerve becomes predominant, blood pressure decreases, heart rate goes down, and blood sugar also comes down, allowing the body to repair itself.
Lymphedema is swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system stops draining the tissues adequately. It can often happen following treatment for cancer when lymph nodes are removed.
Please note, Gua Sha is not recommended for those suffering Lipoedema or Lymphedema. In this case, we’d recommend the Reset and Rescue Breath rituals. These are simple techniques which relax the body, enable free-flow of circulation and assist detoxification by supporting the lymphatic system.
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