Lymphedema of the Legs and Ankles
By Linda Fisher
The obstruction of the flow of lymph from a given area results in the accumulation of abnormally large amounts of tissue fluid in that area. Such an accumulation is called lymphedema.
Lymphadema is not only uncomfortable, it may cause such problems as pain, infection and recurrent infection, difficulty in movement, clothing restrictions, and air travel restrictions.
Remembering that the lymph moves upward in the body toward the heart, from the finger tips in toward the heart, and from the top of the head down toward the heart, we can see that the fluid moving furthest in the body is from the lower extremities. Some causes of lymphedema of the lower extremities is congestive heart failure, trauma to the back or lower abdominal area, blockage in the groin (inguinal nodes), or blockage behind the knee (popliteal nodes).
I often use the analogy of a traffic accident on the freeway to explain movement of lymph. At the point of the accident, all traffic either stops or slows to a near halt, until the accident is cleared away, thus allowing the traffic to again flow naturally. Anatomically, at the point of blockage, everything slows down and begins to accumulate backward along the path of flow. If the feet and ankles are swollen, it generally means that there is a blockage “up ahead.”
Even in slender young people, we sometimes see signs of lymphedema in the legs. This appears as “heavy ankles” or as a little pouch of fat on the inside curve of the knee area. When present in this portion of the population, we usually find that the individual is not getting the right exercise and eating largely of the wrong foods, or just the opposite. Many joggers, tennis players, and aerobic exercise enthusiasts exercise and eat properly, but they get this problem because repeated hard impact will slow lymph movement.
In the middle age and senior group, we may see a different, but very common, problem - shuffling the feet instead of walking comfortably. When you cannot lift your feet to step properly, you may just accept that you probably have an “arthritic problem.” Many times, you may have a large mass of lymph fluid behind your knee that has pooled, and then hardened. Imagine the pain this would cause. It would be like strapping a tennis ball behind your knee and then attempting to walk!
There is more than one cause of lymphedema in the lower extremities. The ones mentioned above are just some of the more common ones.
Tips to Avoid Blockage:
Do not wear tight jeans or tight under garments. Do not cross the knees when sitting; cross feet at the ankles instead. For the exercise enthusiast, integrate some form of slow, rhythmic exercise - yoga and pilates are excellent, as is walking. Bouncing on a trampoline is excellent - no need to jump. Bend your knees and get a gentle bounce going for a minimum of 12-15 minutes a day. If balance is a concern, hold onto a stationary item or purchase a balance bar that attaches to your trampoline. Also, if wheel chair bound, place your feet on the trampoline and have someone else bounce it for you - you will receive a positive benefit from this. Lie on a slant board. And, as always, drink plenty of clean water, practice deep belly-breathing, and eat plenty of fresh, unprocessed foods. Caution: In the case of congestive heart failure, be absolutely sure to check with your health care practitioner before attempting any form of exercise and, of course, no slant-boarding! “Creating free lymphatic movement through the body is a vital part of any healing process.”
Linda Fisher owns the Lympathic Wellness Center in Santa Maria.