Can Acupuncture Help Or Worsen Lymphedema?


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Julii Brainard answered
Lymph vessels in the body normally collect tissue fluids made up of protein, fats, water and cell wastes. Normally this fluid drains away quickly, but in people with lymphedema the drainage is disrupted and swelling ensues of the affected area (typically one of the limbs).

Lymphedema can be inherited in which case it usually starts in the teenage years and affects the foot or lower leg. Lymphedema more commonly develops much later in life, usually as a result of injury to the lymphatic system.

Sometimes the uninherited version of the condition resolves itself, sometimes it is lifelong.

Most sources advise against acupuncture for lymphedema, or in areas affected by lymphedema (if the acupuncture is to treat something else) Acupuncture could cause infection or the lymphatic fluid to leak (it is said to be caustic to the skin). Given that acupuncture needles should barely pierce the skin, these risks seem unlikely. But the problem with lymphedema is that the lymphatic fluid may swell into subcutaneous skin, even stretching it fairly tight, thus making puncture of the affected area more likely.

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