Skin Care Do’s and Don’ts for Lymphedema of the Arm
For breast cancer survivors and others affected by lymphedema, my bottom line advice for self-care is this: avoid skin injury and irritation to the affected arm.
The human body reacts to injury by producing fluid. We’ve all experienced edema or swelling of some type in our lives. It’s a healthy and natural response as our body promptly jumps into action to protect us, and to start the healing process. We swell up, and may even develop bruises. This edema is temporary and we usually see it dissipate after a week. However, for someone whose lymphatic system has been compromised by surgery or radiation, this fluid is impeded and stays put in surrounding tissue. The end result is lymphedema, not edema. Since this fluid contains protein, the skin is especially susceptible to serious infection.
As a Lymphedema Therapist, I spend a lot of time educating clients about the importance of skin care, as a slight irritation to the skin could cause a serious infection. A minor cut, scrape, or insect bite is insignificant to those with healthy lymphatic and immune systems, but those with lymphedema should pay special attention to protecting your skin. I’ve compiled this list of dos and do nots that I hope you will find helpful.
- Keep your skin meticulously clean and check frequently for any cracks, infections or rashes
- Moisturize your skin daily
- Use a low pH lotions only, such as Eucerin and Aquaphor
- Dry your skin gently with a soft towel; pat dry, do not scrub
- Avoid cosmetics that irritate your skin
- If you are undergoing radiation, apply the ointments recommended by your physician to any radiation redness
- Avoid clothing that is too tight or restrictive. Wear comfortable bras with wide shoulder straps
- Do not wear tight jewelry and avoid elastic bands around your wrist
- Wear your compression sleeve or bandages all day
Avoid Injuries to the Skin
- Shaving: use an electric shaver instead of razor blades to shave your armpit
- Nail care: keep your nails short, do not cut cuticles, avoid fake nails
- Wear gloves when gardening or playing with your pet (to avoid scratches)
- Mosquito bites: wear insect repellant and avoid mosquito infested areas
- Injections and blood draws: whenever possible, have these done on the non-affected limb. If both arms are affected, request blood to be drawn on the leg or foot (outside of emergencies)
- Avoid blood pressure to be taken on the affected arm.
- To care for minor injuries, always carry an alcohol swab, an antibiotic, and Band-Aid
- No piercing or tattoos on the arm, back or chest.
See your Doctor is you:
- see any signs of infection, such as red or hot skin, fever and chills
- notice any itching, rash, infections, or any other unusual changes on the skin
- experience pain or increased swelling that will not go down
At Healing Kneads Massage we are proud to provide expert, compassionate, and professional massage therapy services to our community. Our approach to wellness is a holistic one, and we treat each client as they truly are: unique. We are unique ourselves in that we value our clients very much, and are extremely results and client-focused. We listen to our clients, customize each and every session to meet YOUR wellness goals, and perform full 60 or 90-minute sessions.
Want to learn more about how massage therapy can help with lymphedema treatment?
We can’t wait to meet you and help you recover!
Laura is the founder of Healing Kneads. She graduated from Florida College of Natural Health in 2012 and is passionate about helping people find rejuvenation and renewal amidst the stresses of life, and relief from the pains that show up in their bodies because of that stress. She believes in the mind-body connection and believes every body has the potential for wellness and balance. Laura has helped clients with various issues, including neck and jaw pain, headaches, Lipedema, and Lymphedema.
She is licensed by the Florida Department of Health, and holds certifications in Lymphatic Drainage, Myofascial Release, Sports Massage, cupping, and neuromuscular massage.