27 June 2022

Lipoedema Awareness Month

June is Lipoedema Awareness Month and I’ve been writing up a storm to help raise awareness.

I had an article published in our local magazine, the Tawny Frogmouth - click here to read the magazine. I’m posting my original piece and a photo of the edited and published article.

Living well with Lipoedema article in the Tawny Frogmouth
Article in The Tawny Frogmouth magazine

Lipoedema - the emotional story

Have you ever heard of Lipoedema?  Don’t worry, neither have most medical professionals.

Hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this you will either realise you know someone who has it or suspect you may have it.

Here’s an all-to-common starting conversation I have with way too many new female clients … “You’ll think I’m weird, but.”

When I hear that I generally shut my mouth and listen.  This is a woman who has not been heard by her medical team, her family, her friends.

“Ever since I was a teenager I have looked different.  No matter how hard I exercise my legs just get bigger and bigger.  I’ve tried every diet under the sun and while I can lose weight from the top part of my body my legs never change.”

She is distressed.  She doesn’t know what she has done wrong to cause her legs to be so big.  Why does she keep failing at diets?

Sometimes there is pain (not always), tenderness or a deep ache.  And bruising.  And heaviness. 

Once the woman stops talking, I take a breath and tell her that I may know what’s going on.

I’m not allowed to diagnose as a Massage Therapist but I can talk to her about the condition and give her the contact details for a GP who recognises it.

Her usual reaction is gratitude but I always say that the next time I see her she will probably be angry.  Not at me, but with everyone who has brushed her off, told her she was just fat.  Told her she was lying about what she was eating and how she was exercising.  Told her she was imagining things and she just has the “family” legs.

Make no mistake, there can be depression and anxiety for these women.

They have been treated unfairly.  They have probably suffered fat shaming from family, friends or health professionals.

But they have a diagnosable medical condition which is hormonally triggered and generally hereditary.

They have done nothing wrong to cause it.

Lipoedema is a chronic disease which affects up to 11% of the female population (you read that right!) and is often misdiagnosed as obesity or Lymphoedema. 

It is a symmetrical build-up of fat tissue predominantly in the legs and arms, though it can present in almost any part of the body.  The fat can be painful.  The skin feels soft, like a baby’s.  There’s hypermobility and in the later stages mobility may be affected.

In the early stages it is very difficult to diagnose because women may not look all that different, but they know they are different.  They know their legs don’t reflect the effort they put in. 

But in the later stages … see if you recognise this picture …

You’re walking behind a woman and you can’t believe what you are seeing.  This woman looks maybe a size 14 on the top half but the bottom half!  Must be at least a size 20!  How is that even possible?  Her waist is so small in comparison to her lower half.  And there are these weird cuffs at her ankles, cankles, but her feet look kinda normal.  What?

Have you seen that woman?

And here’s the million dollar question … is there a cure?

Unfortunately, no.

But there is much you can do to help control the symptoms.

Compression stockings are vital.  Exploring an anti-inflammatory way of eating to reduce the inflammation/pain. Walking in the water.  Or on land.  Or any exercise you enjoy which doesn’t cause you pain.  Manual Lymphatic Drainage can help reduce symptoms as can dry brushing.

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