Axillary web syndrome (AWS), also known as lymphatic cording, refers to the formation of cord- or rope-like areas under the skin in the area under your arms. It may extend partially down the arm and in some cases, it may also extend down to your wrists.
What Causes Axillary Web Syndrome?
AWS usually occurs as a side effect of surgeries that are done to remove the lymph nodes under the areas of your arms. Such surgeries are mostly performed as a treatment for breast cancer. AWS can also be caused by the formation of scar tissue as a result of breast cancer surgery in the chest area even if lymph nodes are not removed. AWS can appear within days, weeks, or even months after a surgery. In some cases, the cords will appear on your chest where you had breast surgery, such as lumpectomy, instead of the area under your arm.
Though the actual cause of AWS is not yet determined, it is believed that it is caused by the solidification or coagulation of lymphatic fluid in the areas under your arms. Such coagulation is generally a result of the trauma caused by surgery to a particular area. The solidified fluid is what feels and appears like webs and cords.
What Are The Symptoms Of Axillary Web Syndrome?
To know if you have AWS, you can use your fingers and feel the area under your arms. They are usually raised and will feel like webs. In some cases, they are not visible but will be painful and will hinder the mobility of your arm. They will give your arm a tight feeling when you try to move it. AWS will drastically limit your arms’ range of motion and will prevent you from raising them above your shoulder. It will also restrict your elbows so will not be able to straighten your arms fully. Such restrictions in movement can make your day-to-day life quite difficult.
How Is Axillary Web Syndrome Treated?
In order to manage the pain caused by AWS, you can use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or any other painkiller but you need to get the green signal from your doctor first. You need to keep in mind that these painkillers will not lessen the cording.
There are a few therapy methods available that will help manage AWS. One such therapy is massage therapy. It can be used on its own or in combination with other therapies for better and faster results. Petrissage is a type of massage that works really well in treating AWS. It involves kneading the area over the lumps and is best performed by a professional masseuse as it can be painful if not done correctly. Other therapies for AWS includes a range of motion exercises and stretching and flexibility exercises. Such exercises will improve the flow the lymph under the arms and will get rid of the cording over time. Going for laser therapy is also an option as it will help break down the hardened scar tissue. Applying heat directly on the areas of cord formation is helpful, but it should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional. This is because too much heat can increase lymph production, which will further increase cording.
How Can You Prevent Axillary Web Syndrome?
AWS is not fully preventable but stretching and performing a range of motion exercises can decrease its chances of occurrence. Such exercises should be performed before and after breast cancer surgery, especially if your lymph nodes are removed. You should always talk to your doctor if you feel pain or uneasiness while raising your arms after a surgery so that AWS can be detected and treated early. AWS is usually a one-time thing and does not reoccur once treated.