03 January 2006

Lasers and Ice Water

I took my grandma to a physical therapist today. Ever since she had her mastectomy (somewhere around 1985), her right arm has been badly swollen. I think this is because some lymph nodes got removed, or something else that regulates fluid flow in the body. The swelling has never been good, but it's gotten worse since she's been on dialysis.

The first thing the doctor did was use a laser on her. It looked a lot like the handheld laser scanners they use in stores for items that are difficult to drag across the flat scanner. He claimed that it would stimulate the nerves and cells and encourage them to put the fluid back where it belongs, or something like that. It sounded a bit fishy to me, but it does seem to be a legitimate therapy. Wikipedia has a brief article. There is more detail here. Apparently double blind studies have been done which show the light is effective. I can only assume the placebo treatment was with a non-laser light that was indistinguishable to a casual glance. *shrugs*

Next up was some massage therapy, done by a student in the program. The idea was to massage the excess fluid out of the arm, presumably to a locale with functioning nodes that would then process it out of the body.

Two more treatments were applied simultaneously. One of them involved an electrical stimulus, delivered through four sterile pads. My old roommate had a smaller TENS unit that did much the same thing, though probably with less fine-tuning ability. The doctor wanted to stimulate some specific nerve center. Over this was put a pressure brace: it wrapped around the arm and was then filled with cold water to squeeze the excess fluids out. It was too small to cover her whole arm, so they did lower then upper then just her hand, all while the electro-stimulus was going on.

This was her first session up there, but her arm did not look as swollen afterward. So maybe if she keeps up the treatments, it will go down to manageable size. Lately it's been so swollen that her right hand hasn't been much use for anything.

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