Breast cancer treatments continue to improve, but even still, many patients must deal with difficult side effects and long-lasting consequences of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments.
One of those potential ill effects is lymphedema, a condition in which one or more areas of the body experience swelling due to their decreased ability to move lymph fluid and flush it out of the body. Lymphedema often occurs when lymph nodes are removed during surgery or damaged during radiation therapy. This life-long medical condition can also be caused by an infection or by the cancer itself if tumors block lymphatic vessels.
Sadly, lymphedema is not curable, and it can be serious or even life-threatening if not properly treated. However, there are several treatment options that can help reduce swelling and ensure that patients are able to maintain a high quality of life.
Some people have an easier time than others combatting their lymphedema, and the same treatments don’t work for everyone exactly the same way. Some people respond well to compression sleeves, while others do best with manual lymph drainage massages, and many need a combination of different types of treatment.
Kinesology taping, also known by the shortened name kinesio taping, is one method of reducing swelling, and it works by gently lifting the skin and providing negative pressure to specific areas in a particular pattern to encourage the fluid to go toward a lymph node and be drained from the body.
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Kinesio taping for lymphedema has been around for the last couple of decades. Originally, users of this method had to cut strips of elastic tape individually and apply them in a sun-ray pattern on the affected area, which could be time-consuming, because it needed to be redone every few days. Now companies have developed pre-cut kinesio tapes that people can apply in one piece.
So how do you do it? You may be able to apply the tape to yourself, or you may need a friend to help you, depending on the area affected. Start by applying the thick single end of the tape near an area where lymph nodes are available, such as the neck, collarbone, armpits, shoulders, or groin. Then the “tails” of tape are spread out around the limb that’s being affected by lymphedema.
Make sure to clean and dry the skin before applying the tape, and stretch the limb away from the tape when applying the tails so that you’ll still have movement after it’s applied.
Be sure to also spend plenty of time sticking down each section of tape so it doesn’t come unstuck. You may find that applying two spirals going in opposite directions is the most effective way to use kinesio taping.
Think kinesio taping looks a bit like magic? We do too. Check out this tutorial on how it’s done to see the magic in action!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?