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Osteopathy For Lymphedema: A Patient’s Story

“Congratulations! You don’t have breast cancer,” said the surgeon as Monica woke up from her surgery. They had removed all of her breast tissue and all the lymph nodes in her right arm.

Five years later when she was sitting in my office, she said, “What they did not tell me was that I was going to have to live with my arm this swollen. I have to wear this sleeve that does not feel like it does anything.” Monica’s right arm had swelled up like a balloon right after the surgery and had been like that for five years.

LymphadenopathyWhen they took out all of the lymph nodes in Monica’s arm, it left the lymphatics in her arm working inefficiently. The lymphatics were blocked and unable to drain. The backup in lymphatics made her arm swell up dramatically with lymph fluid.

Monica had found a lymph node transplant surgery where they transplant lymph nodes from her groin area. Even then, the surgery was not going to make her arm look like before the nodes were removed. The surgeon had recommended to try to get her arm as drained as possible prior to the surgery for the best chance of success.

She came in to see if there was anything we could accomplish. I did not know to what extent I could help. Having been through chemo, radiation, and surgery, the first thing I noticed was how scarred not just her arm felt, but her rib cage. The ribs were incredibly rigid and the fascia (connective tissue) was adhered to her ribs.

I cannot explain it with words, but her rib cage did not feel very “alive.” It felt petrified or like a dried out piece of wood. The soft tissues were also so tight in her chest going to her shoulder, they were pulling the shoulder into the rib cage and pinning the ball into the socket.

As I put pressure on certain areas, I expected them to be extremely tender from the way they felt.  They were not. They were numb. So besides the swelling, her arm and ribs were numb. So I went to work. I worked to release her rib cage, collarbone, shoulder, and arm as much as I could. I was hoping that removing the soft tissue blockages and restoring motion to the bones would help get the main lymphatic vessels to drain under the collarbone.

When I was done, her arm visually looked the same. However, her arm felt more like a sponge rather than a grapefruit. It actually felt much better. It felt like there had been a significant amount of lymphatic drainage out of her arm. Monica noticed the immediate improvement in her arm and felt it was easier to move her shoulder. The important question was, would it hold?

When Monica returned about a week later, her arm still felt much better to Monica. Visually it looked swollen still, but it still felt more like a sponge rather than a grapefruit. The ribs and arm felt more “alive.”

“Putting on an oven mitt feels very different,” she stated. Interestingly as I began working to release more tissues in the areas that we had been working on the week before, Monica winced.

“That’s tender,” she said. Areas that had been numb for five years prior to the treatment were suddenly beginning to have sensation. She and I were amazed at how quickly sensation started coming back into the area. On subsequent visits, there has been more and more sensation as we have continued to make more progress. All this took place in a few short weeks. All I had to do was remove the blockages as much as possible and her body could take the healing process further.

The osteopath’s job is to be a catalyst or a facilitator to give the body what it needs to heal the things it was unable to prior to the treatment. Once the process has started, the body will continue to work with what has been done as far as it can as it is constantly is working towards health.

“Find it. Fix it. Leave it alone. Nature will do the rest.” Andrew Taylor Still, D.O. (Founder of Osteopathy)

Daniel Lopez, D.O.

Author Daniel Lopez, D.O.

Daniel Lopez, D.O. grew up with a lot of pain trying many things that did not help. Realizing that if he could not help himself, he would be unable to help others effectively, he dedicated himself to finding real answers. Since that time, Dr. Lopez has found a unique but powerful style where he has patients from around the country and the world that travel to see him for headaches, TMJ issues, eye issues, neck pain, back pain, and more. Daniel Lopez, D.O. is an osteopathic physician with Osteopathic Integrative Medicine. Prior to that he had a private practice in NYC for 6 years. He is the author of the Amazon best seller "Unwinding the Body and Decoding the Messages of Pain: An In-Depth Look into the World of Osteopathic Physicians and How They 'Magically' Use Their Hands for Healing." He lives in Aurora, CO with his wife and daughters.

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Helena cheng says:

    Hi. I had a wertheim hysterectomy back in 1983. In January this year, I noticed my right leg slowly getting bigger. By March, my right calf measured 6cm more than the left.
    I haven’t been able to get satisfactory diagnosis and therefore treatment so far.
    I live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Can you p,ease give me some suggestions as to how to get the treatment I need?

    Thank you.

    • Daniel Lopez, D.O. says:

      Hi Helena, I appreciate you contacting me. I’m sorry to hear about your leg and unsatisfactory treatment. Unfortunately, there’s little I can determine or know based on the information and without being able to physically examine you. Perhaps there is a good osteopath in Kuala Lampur that may be able to help you with the swelling, but I really have no idea. Either way, it may be a good idea to try to get to the bottom of why your leg started swelling now so many years after the surgery.

  • Carole says:

    I have been suffering with tail bone pain and now supposedly sacriolittis. I have had a shot into the sacroiliac loint and trigger point injections, been given anti inflammatories, etc, all to no avail. My friend from Canada keeps urging me to see an osteopath. I have made an appt and I hope you can help because I am at my wits end with this pain,

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