Lymphedema and Scars: What Do They Have in Common?

Lymphedema and Scars: What Do They Have in Common?

The connection between lymphedema and the need for scar care is the surgical procedure. Most often, that surgical procedure results from a cancer diagnosis. However, not always. Procedures such as hip or knee replacements can result in degrees of scarring and the possibility of lymphedema. Scars can also obstruct lymphatic circulation, especially when considering the scarring from breast cancer procedures.

So, what exactly is lymphedema? 

Despite the lack of knowledge surrounding lymphedema, it is a common condition affecting around 10 million people in the United States alone and 250 million people globally. Lymphedema is an insufficiency in the lymphatic system that causes chronic swelling in a specific body part. Lymphedema can affect the lower and upper extremities, either bilaterally or unilaterally. There is also lymphedema of the head, neck, abdomen, and genital area. Specific forms of cancer typically cause those.

Lymphedema can be classified as either primary or secondary; there are exact symptoms that determine the two. Primary lymphedema is a developmental abnormality of the lymphatic system; this means it is congenital or hereditary. Typically, primary lymphedema starts with swelling in the foot and ankle. In time, the swelling moves through the rest of the leg. When primary lymphedema shows up immediately or within two years of birth, it is known as congenital lymphedema. If primary lymphedema develops before thirty-five years of age, it is lymphedema praecox. If it develops after thirty-five years old, it is called lymphedema tarda. Primary lymphedema means a person is pre-disposed to develop it, and the only question is when. The onset can be caused by an insignificant event that stresses the lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema is more precise as trauma to the lymphatic system causes it. Those traumas include surgery, radiation, infection, injury, cancer, chronic venous insufficiency, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and congestive heart failure – just to name a few.

As a certified lymphedema therapist, I have seen and treated my fair share of lymphedema and post-procedure scarring. Interestingly, one of the most recommended treatments for scar care is scar massage or soft tissue mobilization. Massage techniques, such as vibration, friction, and the traditional Chinese Medicine cupping technique, help break up the fibrotic tissues and collagen build-up that creates scarring. I share this because when I started my career as a lymphedema therapist, I did not know there were medical-grade silicone products that could help with scarring and other skin conditions. Since I learned about Biodermis silicone scar care products, I have recommended them to patients, friends, and family. I have seen the benefits that these products provide.

The treatment for lymphedema is seemingly simple yet requires dedication. It has four components: compression bandaging with short-stretch bandages, manual lymph drainage massage techniques, skin care, including wound management/scar care, and exercises. Establishing a self-care program for the patient to manage their condition is essential. Scar care is relatively similar. Your scar care treatment might consist of using silicone gel sheeting in combination with a 100% silicone gel or silicone stick. This treatment will be daily and allow for multiple applications throughout the day.

With any condition, the most important aspects to see results are consistency and effective product or treatment choice. You would not seek out a therapist who is not certified in lymphedema to treat your lymphedema, and you would not choose a scar product that is not proven to heal scars to heal your scar. Always do your research and ask questions. Biodermis is proud to supply education and case studies showing the effectiveness of its products. Please check out their website for more information.

Contributed by Summer Ferguson, LMT, CLT