Avril Lunken Lymphedema Occupational Therapist
Rona McLaughlan introduced our guest speaker for the night with Avril Lunken speaking on Lymphoedema. She began her career in England as an Occupational Therapist and emigrated to Australia in 1996. She opened her clinic in Bayside Moorabbin and then two years ago moved up to West Heidelberg where she practices now.
Avril went to India to teach the village women how to make compression garments and transported a very heavy sewing machine in her suitcases, wearing most of her clothing on the plane.
She started off with a question. Where is the lymph system? We weren’t quite sure. The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. The lymphatic system primarily consists of lymphatic vessels, which are similar to the veins and capillaries of the circulatory system. The vessels are connected to lymph nodes, where the lymph is filtered. The tonsils, adenoids, spleen and thymus are all part of the lymphatic system. The whole system stretches all over our body except in the head.
It is like a tree with fine branches without any leaves leading into bigger branches and then down to the trunk.
The main thoracic duct starts at the belly button and heads upwards to the neck region.
The lymphatics don’t pump like the heart they just travel upwards. The heart moves around 10,000 litres and the lymphatics move around just 2-4 litres. Lymph fluid flows one way and contains water and pathogens and cellular debris. The lymph requires movement, such as cleaning our teeth, walking, getting dresses or doing anything where our body is moving.
On the way along our vessels there are nodes, so the lymph flows into these nodes and these structures are very dense and within them are T cells and B cells which protect us as part of our immune system. If there is anything untoward these nodes will be the first structure to find out and destroy it. Unfortunately it can is very deceiving and tricks the nodes which store the cancer into a little corner and just mothball it. This is when you hear that the nodes are affected.
The lymph nodes are all over the body particularly around the back of the knee groin and the neck. So when you get a cold you may develop lumps around the neck, this is nothing to worry about. It is the lymph nodes doing its job protecting us.
Lymphoedema is a long standing chronic condition that causes swelling in the body affecting legs, arms, the head or even globally. People can be born with Lymphoedema where there aren’t enough vessels being created or they aren’t working effectively which means it needs to be managed right from babyhood.
It can be triggered by something else such as a knock on the foot or leg which can start the condition or even after surgery.
Not all swelling is Lymphoedema. This can also be Lipoedema which is a condition where an abnormality of fat cells is being deposited in the body and often affects women. A lot of research is being done into this.
In tropical areas, mosquitoes can deposit their larvae under the skin and as the larvae grow, they can destroy the lymphatic system.
Skin care is most important, using skin creams with no petro chemicals, exercise, manual lymph drainage and compression. Compression can vary from compression garments, bandages or pumps for more severe.
Avril showed us the variety of compression garments.
She explained the importance of diaphragmatic breathing which is breathing down into your belly holding and exhaling and bringing your belly right into your spine. This will stimulate the base of the thoracic duct and move the lymphatics a little bit quicker.
Foot exercises can help such as writing your name in the air with your foot moving the calf muscle. Some people call your calf the heart of the lymphatics. Another thing that helps is raising the foot of the bed to help the lymphatic move faster.
Avril showed us some images of patients with Lymphoedema and how to put the compression bandages on and off.
We watched a short video on an Indian woman making compression bandages and then some extreme cases of Lymphoedema.
Avril’s presentation open our eyes to a condition we didn’t know much about, but now can see that we do have to look after ourselves as this condition can affect anyone.
Rona thanked Avril for coming along to talk to us about this little known condition. Another interesting customer from Rona’s shop.
After our heads and tails and happy dollars, the meeting was closed remembering our Rotary theme for 2019-2020 “Rotary Connects the World.”