In about February of this year, in the middle of Sydney summer, my hands started to swell. And I mean, seriously swell.  Both of them.  To the point where you couldn’t see the ligaments or veins, just puffiness.  In fact, I had gained 2kg almost overnight (I know, that doesn’t sound like much but for me it is).

Initially they weren’t painful, just uncomfortable.  Then the pain set in and I was finding it hard to make it through the day at work. I tried some self-lymphatic drainage and lymph taping without making much of a change to the swelling or pain.

So I looked to diet and went on a three-week reset protocol to reduce inflammation – no gluten, dairy, caffeine or sugar.  Been there, done that, got on with it. Within about three days my levels of pain started to come down a bit but not significantly.  (I dropped those 2 kilos within a month.)

Checked in with my osteopath who felt perhaps it was an auto-immune condition as it was affecting both hands and came on suddenly, though my right hand was worse.  Went to my GP who ran a battery of tests and five pages of results showed everything was within normal range.  Yay!  I’m so very healthy (especially after my reset protocol).  So what’s the problem? My GP couldn’t say.

Weeks went by without much change other that the burning pain which had started in my hands at night, keeping me awake at night.  In frustration, one Sunday afternoon, I went to my local medical centre and the GP there instantly suggested Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. By that stage it seemed the only logical explanation to me and I was hoping to get a referral to have it confirmed.  Let me tell you, a nerve conduction test is not for the faint-hearted, but it confirmed that I had moderate Carpal Tunnel in my right hand and mild in the left.  The neurologist’s recommendation?  Try splints at night for a few months, if it doesn’t settle come back and he can do an injection and if that doesn’t work then he’d look at surgery.

As a massage therapist you can understand how surgery just wasn’t an option. So I went to the chemist and got myself a couple of off-the-shelf splints and started wearing those at night.  By that stage I had already passed the few Remedial Massage clients I had left on to another therapist as I just didn’t have the flexibility or strength to do it any more. But I was still ok with doing lymphatic drainage thank goodness.

Months have passed and I have thrown everything at these hands of mine and I can say that I am at about 80% capability now.  My pain is negligible.

Here are some of the things I can do now that I couldn’t do without pain (or at all) four months ago …

  • open doors using a key
  • carry a handled bag with my actual hand
  • open both hands fully
  • open plastic containers (like the ones you get olives in)
  • put coin change into my purse
  • change gears and pull up/put down the handbrake
  • shake hands
  • hold onto a glass without having to be careful
  • take a pan off the stove
  • chop pumpkin/sweet potato/anything hard at all

Still to improve …

  • strength
  • making a fist
  • using a knife to eat (still using a serrated one)
  • opening jars
  • squeezing lemons for my evening tea

Here are my favourite tools to help me with those things at home …

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Here’s a list of the things I’ve done to bring about my healing …

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My home therapy kit

  • hand physiotherapist
  • custom-made splint
  • gliding, sponge, stretching, flexing, extending exercises
  • massage
  • rice therapy
  • crystal therapy
  • sound therapy
  • natural anti-inflammatories
  • anti-inflammatory creams/oils
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My work therapy kit

If you’ve made to this point, thank you for reading on.  The point of the blog is to show that sometimes healing takes a lot of work and we have to be willing to try lots of different things and different types of therapists.  And very often, we have to do a lot of the work ourselves, looking at the uncomfortable thought or emotional patterns behind the condition.

True healing comes with a marriage of mainstream medicine and complementary therapies.

For more information go to http://lisahiggins.ntpages.com.au

Chat with my friend Annie, a two-time breast cancer survivor. Here is an important message “chemo brain” sifted out of the conversation but which Annie would really like people to hear:
Most importantly, CONTINUE TO CHECK YOUR BREASTS LADIES (AND MEN), both personally and professionally – have your mammogram and ultrasound annually, because without it, this would be a very different story. She’s being treated as an early breast cancer survivor, not metastatic”

Annie didn’t mention as well that before her surgery she purchased two new compressions sleeves, one for each arm so that she could get compression on straight away to minimise lymphoedema developing in the second arm.  She also wears night-time compression on her right arm because of her original lymphoedema.

 

Interview with a two-time cancer survivor

 

For more information go to http://lisahiggins.ntpages.com.au

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I’ve updated the video I give to my clients for homework, hopefully making it a little bit clearer.  Use this video for general health and wellbeing, Lipoedema or when detoxing.  Do not use if you have had lymph nodes removed or radiated.

 

Here’s the diagram I’m holding up in the video.

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Continuing on from my “coming out” blog last week, I thought I might write about a few sessions I’ve had recently, just to give you an idea of how they differ from a typical massage treatment.

A client came in for her session and I could immediately see she was stressed and certainly not in the right head space to lie on the table to receive her manual lymphatic drainage for her lymphoedema arm. You could almost see the sparks firing off her – we’ve all felt that kind of energy when someone walks into a room.  There was no point putting her on the table until she had been given the opportunity to vent and I didn’t need to ask her any questions, she just let go. And I let her.  She’d had her young supervisor at work suggest to her that she needed to be more resilient.  My client had recently returned to the job having been working in another city and this was a new supervisor she had no history with.  Resilience was this lady’s middle name … breast cancer, teenaged daughters, lymphoedema, working through treatment, recently broken wrist on the lymphoedema arm which triggered her lymphoedema which had been under control, still working through. You name it, she just kept going.  Grrr.

After she vented I pulled out my trusty pyramid and “dinged” her.  She took a massive breath in and her entire body let go and relaxed.  A smile even appeared.  Followed by “what is THAT”?  I explained as best I could what I think happens when I strike the pyramid.

Now that she was more receptive I showed her the amazing garment I had ordered for her the previous week – the Mobiderm Autofit Sleeve.  Her eyes lit up and she quickly put it on and said, “oh yes, I can wear this”.  So we left it on and I got her onto the table and started our manual lymphatic drainage session.

We talked while I worked and I got the impression that what the conversation with the supervisor had triggered was a feeling of unexpressed grief.  I held onto that thought but not for long because a minute later she said, “I feel as if I was never allowed to grieve during my treatment because my daughter wouldn’t let me, she would tell me to get over it” (or words to that effect, I can’t remember exactly now).  So the resilience comment took her right back to when she was in treatment and unable to express emotion.

This led to me asking her what tools she used when she was stressed … meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, tapping, going for a walk?  She had a think and said she used to go to mindfulness classes and those were great.  I suggested that she might find a mindfulness app and do it on her own and save some money and she remembered that she already had a number of them downloaded on her phone!

Next I asked her if she’d ever heard of tapping … why yes she had, but hadn’t done it for a long time. And bingo, I pointed her in the direction of some great YouTube videos to guide her through until she felt comfortable doing it on her own.

In between all this I had taken off her new garment and shown her the marks on her arm from where it had already started to work and she was amazed.

By this time, she was laughing and happy.

She went home in a totally different frame of mind to the one she came with – her arm feeling better and with her sleeve to wear at night while she slept and some ideas on how to help her manage her stress levels.  For me, it’s all about giving people tools to self-manage.

I even got a hug!

 

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I figured it was time I “came out”.  The truth is, I don’t just work on the physical body.  I’ve always been a little different to most people and I have kept that side of me separate from my work for all these years.  Or so I thought.

I’d always thought that if I said to my lymphatic clients that actually, I was working with them on an energetic level as well physically they would think I was nuts and never come back.  Then I had it pointed out to me (gently) that if I thought my clients didn’t realise it on some level I was deluding myself.  You see, my clinic probably looks a little different to most.

I like crystals.  There, I said it and now it’s in the public domain!  And I have lots of things  that might look a little different scattered around.  And I use energy sprays and sound and cards.  Who did I think I was kidding?

But make no mistake, I am very much working on the physical body and using my Vodder training to treat the many different conditions I see in the clinic … Lymphoedema, Lipoedema, autoimmune conditions, general oedema, pain, surgical swelling.  It is not an either/or situation.

Here are a few photos to show you what I mean.

And a link to a quick listen of my crystal pyramid, one of my favourite tools.

This is just an introduction, a coming out of sorts.  I’m going to write a few more blogs about what some sessions with me look like so you can get more of an idea.

I feel very strongly that we need to be treating the whole person, not just the symptoms we are presented with.  I’m sure most therapists feel this way as well, I’m just not sure how many are able to use all their different techniques freely.

Let’s start a dialogue – got questions?

 

http://lisahiggins.ntpages.com.au

Hi all

I realised recently that I haven’t published a newsletter in eighteen months – well, no-one can complain that I’m clogging up their mailbox!

I have lots of news to share about The Oasis … read all about it here.

I wish you all a very restful and healthy Christmas and New Year.

 

http://lisahiggins.ntpages.com.au

 

Last Monday night, at our monthly support group meeting, Nicola Beverley came to talk to us about makeup post cancer treatment – she runs Make Me Me,  a voluntary, community based event created for women dealing with cancer or long term illness to spend an afternoon together being pampered.  Watch her introductory video here.  A number of the ladies had been on the Look Good Feel Better program but felt that perhaps they weren’t quite ready to take in all it had to offer as they were still in treatment and tired and feeling pretty wretched (though the information about scarves and wigs was universally appreciated!).

Nicola’s idea, while very similar, has a different time frame.  The perfect example was Bernadette, who volunteered to be made up on the night.  She’s about two years post diagnosis and is back at work full time, back to “business as usual”.

Nicola went through describing the products she uses, all as natural and chemical free as possible.  Natural fibre application brushes.  Natural cleansers. Then she applied makeup on Bernadette, explaining how to achieve the natural look easily.  The most exciting part was towards the end when she showed us how to do eyebrows – not using a pencil but using a brush.  The result was amazing and Bernadette was almost jumping up and down with excitement – “EYEBROWS, I HAVE EYEBROWS!!!”.  It’s the little things that can sometimes make the biggest difference.

Here are some before, during and after photos for you …

Nicola’s idea is to teach women how to do their make up post treatment in the relaxed environment of their own home – invite a few girlfriends round, open a bottle of wine, have some nibbles and learn about makeup.  Sounds a lovely idea to me.

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One of my clients, Chris, has very kindly given permission for me to share her photos and reports to write this blog.

Chris is what I’d call a very “motivated” client.  She is determined that she will kick lymphoedema’s butt, no matter how many times I tell her that she can control it with good maintenance but it will always be a part of her life.  She believes in positive thought and who am I to knock that?

Chris first came to see me in January 2016 at the age of 72, complaining of swelling and discomfort mainly in the left lateral chest wall and through to her back as well as her upper arm.  She had had a squamous cell carcinoma removed in the area (as well as many others in different parts of her body), along with a total axillary clearance and radiation to the area.  The swelling became noticeable almost as soon as the radiation finished in October 2015.

She had a number of physiotherapy sessions prior to coming to see me but hadn’t found these beneficial. I checked her self-clearing technique (she was directing fluid to the armpit so we adjusted that and I showed her how to do deep breathing as well).

Over the last year we have used a number of techniques.  Manual Lymphatic Drainage is the main therapy used but I have also added Low Level Laser and deep fibrosis techniques.

Chris uses a Mobiderm arm sleeve day and night (she finds this more comfortable than elastic compression sleeves).  There are days that she does use her normal compression sleeve as well, but she finds the Mobiderm more effective.

I have fitted her for a compression vest which she also wears daily, with Mobiderm swell spots inserted in the areas of greatest fibrosis. Photo below

Chris uses her own low level laser daily at home – she has a Pulse Laser.

Once a week she applies kinesiotape down her arm and across her back – she takes this off just before coming to her MLD sessions and reapplies once she gets home.

She swims daily in the ocean when it is warm enough and does a lot of walking (she delivers pamphlets every day) and running.  She is incredibly fit, active and full of energy (she credits the energy to taking lots of spirulina, but I can’t vouch for that – she’s just full of life!).

After a few months of treatment Chris went to Mt Wilga Hospital for a three week intensive course of treatment. She now has a very personal relationship with Dr Helen Mackie!

Even though visually you cannot tell Chris has lymphoedema, she is aware of it constantly and it affects her daily life.  So she went to see Dr Mackie and the surgical team at Macquarie Hospital in October 2016, to see if perhaps there was a surgical solution to her issue.

She spent about four hours with the team, being measured with different diagnostic tools and when using Indocyanine Green (ICG) Fluorescence Lymphography, they found she had some issues in the dorsum of her hand but that her arm was ok. There was also an issue in her lateral chest (where she had the most discomfort) and no evidence of functional lymphatic vessels, with no lymph movement down to the lower abdomen. She did however have a strong pathway across her chest to the opposite side, as well as one on her back going in the same direction. And the scans showed up lots of fibrosis in the chest wall which needed to be broken up with deep friction massage.

Armed with that information, we were able to tailor her treatment with a real focus on breaking up the fibrosis using laser and deep work, as well as stretching of the arm/shoulder area.

Chris had follow up scans on 23rd March 2017 and the difference was quite astonishing! She had a new pathway going from her armpit down into the abdomen and the fibrosis had reduced significantly. So much so that they felt she wasn’t a surgical candidate and she should continue the conservative treatment in the pathways that are now available!

If only more people had access to scanning using ICG – it has been a very useful tool for customising Chris’ treatment and has been beneficial in her progress which in turn has made her much more comfortable with her lymphoedema.  There have even been times when she’s chosen not to wear all her compression for a few hours and she’s enjoyed the freedom that’s given her.

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This weekend was spent learning how to do Lymph Taping.   We were taught by Joyce Bosman, assisted by my one Vodder trainers, Jan Douglass.

Lymph Talking was developed in 1978 by Dr Kenzo Kase in Asia (Korea and Japan) and specific treatment methods for lymphoedema were not developed until 1995 by Ruth Copee from the USA.  The Summer Olympic Games in 2008 was the worldwide breakthrough on taping – it finally became known to the public.  There are many different names for the method – Kinesio-taping; Medical Taping Concept; Taping NeuroMuscular or NMT Methods, to name a few.

Lymph Taping uses an elastic cotton tape, we used Cure Tape all weekend.  Some of the benefits are:

  • increasing circulatory action and lymph flow
  • analgesic
  • maintenance and reduction of lymphoedema (primary and secondary) in limbs, face, breast, abdominal and genital areas
  • reduction of fibrosis
  • scar reduction
  • reduction in sinus or cold symptoms, jaw irritation, ear infections or swelling around the eyes
  • reduction in swelling post surgery or injury
  • reduction of hematomas and bruising

Lymph Taping for lymphoedema is most effective in Stages 0, 1 and early stage 2, before the fluid turns to fat or becomes fibrotic.

The tape is applied over stretched skin which causes it to lift, creating space underneath.  Wherever the tape is applied on the skin creates low pressure.  It is applied in strips which creates an area of low pressure (under the tape) and high pressure next to it.  Fluid naturally flows from high pressure to low pressure so the free fluid in the tissue under the skin will be “sucked up” by the tape.

Here are some photos of the day …

As you can see, the tape comes in a variety of colours and can be cut to different widths to fit in with whatever condition is being treated.  I haven’t included photos of treatment of breast oedema, abdominal and genital oedema for obvious reasons, but we covered all of those too.

http://ntpages.com.au/lisahiggins