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Most of us know or have heard of someone with lymphedema. But have you heard of a condition called lipedema? Many, even some doctors, confuse the two conditions. I had never heard of lipedema until approximately a year ago. I recently had two clients come in...one with lymphedema and one with lipedema. There are distinguishing factors that set the two apart. Let's take a minute and touch on each condition and then see how MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) can play a part in an overall health treatment plan.
There are two types of lymphedema: Primary and Secondary. Primary Lymphedema is an inherited and rare abnormal formation of the lymphatic system and can have an onset at any time but usually after puberty or a pregnancy. Secondary Lymphedema is caused by an injury to an otherwise healthy lymphatic system. We most often associate secondary lymphedema with breast cancer survivors who have developed lymphedema and wear compression sleeves on one or both arms. Other ways lymphedema can develope such as radiation therapy, an injury due to an accident or surgery that damages lymph nodes/vessels, or scar tissue buildup that has compromised the lymphatic system. Lymphedema can develop in any part of the body after a trauma.
Characteristics of Lymphedema
Secondary lymphedema presents in the affected extremity and includes the fingers, feet and toes. There are several stages to lymphedema so it is important to seek treatment as soon as a change is noticed.
Lipedema is a medical condition that causes large deposits of fat (adipose tissue) to form on the hips, thighs and legs. It is often misdiagnosed as lymphedema or obesity. This condition is predominately found in women (approx 11-17%) and is thought to be hormone related. That being said, lipedema can present in a woman anytime after puberty and starts bi-laterally (both sides) at the hips and, over time, moves down to the ankles. Fat deposits start out small and get bigger and bigger over time. Texture is similar to bubble wrap. This medical condition can become quite painful over time and can affect quality of life. Not only can lipedema be physically painful but lipedema can be emotionally painful for women. They have to battle the stigma that they are fat and not eating healthy. This condition has nothing to do with being fat and there is not a diet that would reduce the fat buildup. But a healthy diet and exercise can help with the inflammation associated with lipedema.
Characteristics of Lipedema
The trunk (upper part) of the body is much smaller than the lower half of the body. Fat deposits begin on the hips and over time will spread down the legs to the ankles. Lipedema does not affect the top of the feet or toes. Fluid buildup around these fat deposits can cause chronic pain.
Can MLD ( Manual Lymphatic Drainage) Help with Lymphedema and Lipedema?
Yes, yes, yes! Will it cure it? No. If you have been diagnosed with lymphedema your doctor will usually refer you to a Complete Decongestion Therapy (CDT) Therapist who is trained in measuring and fitting compression garments. A massage therapist trained in MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) can work with your CDT therapist in managing your lymphedema.
With lipedema, manual lymphatic drainage can help move out the fluid that builds up around the fatty deposits which can lead to a decrease in pain. Hopefully a correct diagnosis has been made and your doctor has recommended a CDT therapist. Many CDT therapists do not do MLD treatments due to the time involved in those treatments and will refer out to a massage therapist trained in MLD. Some lipedema patients find compression wrapping to be too uncomfortable and painful but it is beneficial in helping to reduce fluid buildup.
Whether lymphedema or lipedema, manual lymphatic drainage could be a beneficial part of your health care plan.
written by: Embrace Life Therapeutic Massage
Massage Therapist specializing in helping women 50 and over stay active and pain free as they navigate through their senior years.