21 July 2021
There are a few issues with circulation that your osteopath is qualified to help with. Circulation is not just limited to the cardiovascular system, there is another system of fluid called the lymphatic system.
Lymphoedema: Poor Circulation of Lymph
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. When blood enters a cell, some of the fluid does not make it back to the venous system, instead it slowly flows to its nearest lymphatic duct. These ducts are punctuated by lymph nodes, or "glands" at various points in the body. When they fight infection, they become enlarged, as you may notice around your neck when you have a sore throat.
Lymph nodes can be affected by cancer. When this happens, they may need to be removed to prevent metastasis elsewhere. A side effect of this can be lymphoedema. This might be seen as significant swelling in the arm if nodes from the armpit are removed after breast cancer, for example. Usual rehabilitation in hospital involves some physical therapy treatment or massage to treat the swelling. The patient should then be taught how to do this themselves, and may be given compression garments to minimise the swelling in the first place.
Your osteopath can help support your lymph drainage with techniques to clear the build up and return the lymph to circulation. This may be a good option for you if your mobility is limited or you generally struggle to perform the exercises yourself. Treatment will not cure your lymphoedema, but it can temporarily reduce swelling, improving local tissue health and reducing other symptoms.
After an injury, the body might react with inflammation. One of the signs of inflammation is swelling, and it is there for a reason. An inflammatory reaction brings cells to the injury that can help to repair the damaged tissues. Although ice was previously standard first aid for this kind of injury, it is falling out of favour. We used to use RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Now a new injury gets PEACE.
Protection, elevation, avoiding anti-inflammatories, compression, education.
Excessive swelling may be uncomfortable in itself, in which case there may be benefits to a short application of a cool compress. You are never aiming to numb the area, so don't do it for more than 10 minutes at a time.
In terms of how your osteopath can help, there are things we can do in both the short and long term. Although we don't want to reduce inflammation, there is no use in allowing the circulation to stagnate. We can use gentle drainage techniques on a swollen injury such as a sprain. These help by encouraging the swelling to move back into circulation. If it is still needed, the body will send new fluid to the area. The reason we want to refresh the fluid is that the repairing cells pick up waste products as they clear up the injury. They also spend their nutrients. When the contrast between the fluid in the injured tissues and the swelling is reduced, the transfer slows.