For some cancer patients, it’s often the first time they have received hands-on, non-invasive treatment since surgery.
According to the NHS, Lymphoedema is thought to affect more than 200,000 people in the UK. Primary lymphoedema is rare and is thought to affect around 1 in every 6,000 people. Secondary lymphoedema is much more common.
Lucy Grubb is a lymphoedema therapist based in Norwich. This is her story.
Hi, my name is Lucy and I work at a Treatment Centre in Norwich performing manual lymph drainage therapy as part of the treatment I provide for patients with lymphoedema.
What is lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema happens when your lymphatic system is compromised or damaged and not working as it should. It’s the accumulation of fluid in the tissues causing limbs and other parts of the body to swell.
Primary lymphoedema is usually congenital and is often linked to underdevelopment of the lymphatic system which can occur at any age.
Secondary lymphoedema develops in people who previously had a normal lymphatic system but it becomes damaged through injury or surgery. This may be caused by:
- cancer, which often involves surgery to remove areas of your lymphatic system.
- radiotherapy which can damage healthy tissue
- infection such as cellulitis
- medical conditions including arthritis and deep vein thrombosis
- trauma such as a road traffic accident
- post surgery such as hip or knee replacements
I was coping well having lived with primary lymphoedema for more than half my life until a sudden onset of cellulites caused by a mosquito bite turned my whole world upside down. Lucy has helped me immensely to find my feet again (in all senses) and to continue with a normal life.
What is a lymphoedema therapist?
I work with men and women of all ages who have needs for their lymphatic system to be optimised. We try to empower people with as much information as we can so that people can help themselves and continue to self-manage their condition between treatments.
Our aim is to get people to a point where they are stable, happy with the exercise regime and compression garments.
Do you diagnose patients?
Diagnosis comes from a GP or consultant, we see patients if the diagnosis has identified that their lymphatic systems have been compromised. Patients are referred to us from hospitals, GPs, self-referral or word of mouth.
Is there a cure for lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition and although there is no cure, it can be well managed and controlled, that’s where we can help with Manual Lymphatic Drainage.
What is MLD?
MLD stands for Manual Lymphatic Drainage, it’s a massage therapy to enable the lymphatic system to work better for each patient.
What is the treatment?
The treatment is gentle, rhythmic and relaxing to receive and the movements stretch the skin and stimulate the lymphatic system. It’s performed without oils and cream. Treatment always starts with the neck, if appropriate, and lymph is redirected away from swollen areas of the body. We clear the way for the lymphatic system to flow. If the right arm is affected, I start on the left breast to avoid the compromised area. It’s a cumulative therapy which means it starts intensively and then the time between appointments gradually gets longer.
What are the benefits of MLD?
- It has a positive effect on the immune system
- It helps areas where compression garments cannot easily be worn
- It has a pain-relieving effect
- It has a calming effect on the nervous system, alleviating stress and releasing chronic tension.
How many other clinics offer lymphatic therapy?
The offer is patchy across the UK, it depends where you live. In Norfolk, there are a few of us who can offer MLD, but we are the only treatment centre in Norwich.
What could a patient expect at their first consultation?
Ahead of every appointment, we make sure we have consent from their GP or consultant as appropriate. In the first consultation we go through their medical history, take volume measurements of the affected limb as appropriate, discuss and measure for compression garments. We will then agree a treatment plan with the patient and start the MLD therapy.
Why did you choose to become a lymphatic therapist?
My mum established a Treatment Centre and school in 1985 (the Alison Rostron treatment centre) so I grew up around my mum’s work. I trained at my mum’s school in holistic massage but continued my rewarding career in London working for Disney. Five years ago my husband and I decided to move back to Norwich to be nearer family and raise our daughters here. I felt a need to work with people on a more personal level and embarked on the training to become an MLD therapist and now I love what I do.
Why do you enjoy it so much?
When we treat patients with lymphoedema, we use a wide range of methods to achieve the best results for the patient. No two patients are the same so we provide MLD in combination with other methods such as;
- kinesio taping (we can also teach patients how to apply this)
- multi-layer lymphodoema bandaging over a period of 2-3 weeks
- deep oscillation electrostatic therapy
There’s nothing like a patient walking out of the centre with a smile on their face, with the confidence and tools to manage their condition. It’s very rewarding to see significant results and progression in patients.
Do you have to be medically trained?
If you are not medically trained, there is prerequisite training you need in physiology and anatomy and an appropriate level of massage therapy training. A Danish biologists called Dr. Vodder developed the MLD technique in the 1930s in Austria and all three of us at the Alison Rostron Treatment Centre are trained in the Vodder method. We are reviewed every two years and this year all three of us are heading to Austria for a week’s training in the clinic there.
What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with lymphoedema?
I would say come and see us at the treatment centre. Early diagnosis and treatment is very important, the sooner we see patients, the better the results.
If you are interested in finding out more about the management and treatment of lymphoedema, you can learn more from the treatment centre website at: http://www.alisonrostron.co.uk