If you've been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have joint pain and swelling. Although it's not as common of a symptom, some people with RA may also develop lymphedema. Lymphedema is tissue swelling caused by impairments in the lymphatic system. Take look to see why this happens and how massage therapy could help.
What Causes This Issue?
According to the journal Plastic Reconstruction Surgery Global Open, lymphedema in patients with RA is mainly caused by fibrin-degradation byproducts that obstruct lymphatic ducts. Fibrin degradation byproducts are components of your blood that are produced when a blood clot dissolves. For instance, if you develop a cut, fibrin threads may form around the wound until it is healed. People with RA tend to have more fibrin deposits in the synovial fluid of their joints. Furthermore, the journal also found that lymphatic smooth muscle cells could become dysfunctional due to RA inflammation, thus leading to lymphedema.
How Can RA-Related Lymphedema Be Treated?
For severe cases, there are surgical options, like Lymphaticovenous anastomosis (LVA), where a doctor can create a new connection in lymphatic channels to facilitate the drainage of lymphatic fluid. If the lymphatic buildup has spread to fat cells, then a doctor might recommend liposuction.
However, surgery is invasive, and if you have a mild to moderate case of lymphedema, you may want to look at conservative methods first, such as wearing compression gloves or socks for extremities or engaging in low-impact exercises, like trampoline rebounding. One conservative treatment that you may want to try is lymphatic drainage massage.
How Does Massage Help?
When your lymphatic system is working correctly, lymph fluid will flow through a network of nodes and vessels. The lymph fluid helps to carry waste products out of the bloodstream, and it carries white blood cells to protect the body against foreign pathogens. With lymphedema, there is a disruption in this natural flow and so the lymph fluid starts to collect and swell in arms, legs, etc.
During a massage, your therapist will use manual motions to encourage the flow of lymph fluid so that any swelling you're experiencing subsides. One study found that while surgical and pharmacological treatments didn't always help RA sufferers with lymphedema, conservative treatments like massage and manual drainage were moderately effective.
How Does It Work?
Every health provider and spa is different, but your therapist will likely want to go over your health history with you first. While lymphatic massage can be great for many people, it may be contraindicated for people with heart or kidney issues. It's always a good idea to talk with your doctor first. During your appointment, your therapist may massage areas with clusters of lymph nodes, such as around the neck, armpits, pelvis, etc. Usually, lymphatic drainage massage is gentle and doesn't incorporate as much pressure as a sport or deep tissue massage.
Reach out to a salon or spa today to learn more about lymphatic massage.