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Lymph massage, otherwise known as manual lymphatic drainage, is a type of gentle massage aimed at increasing the circulation of lymph throughout the body. Proponents of lymph massage argue it can be used to treat various disorders. Manual lymphatic drainage is a medically recognized technique in the treatment of lymph blockages, or lymphedema, which is sometimes seen in cancer patients. Lymphatic massage has the potential to worsen certain some conditions, such as active infections or acute inflammation, however. To ensure there are no contraindications, people should discuss the possibility of having a lymph massage with a doctor prior to having such a procedure.
Lymph is a colorless, interstitial fluid that can be found throughout the body. It works by removing waste products from a person’s circulation and is an important part of the immune system. Therapists who use lymph massage sometimes argue that the technique can successfully boost immune function, and this might be useful for people with frequent infections.
Radiation therapy or the surgical removal of lymph nodes may disrupt the flow of lymph to or from a particular part of the body. Lymphedema arises when lymph circulation is blocked, fluid accumulates and causes swelling of a body part, usually a limb. There is no cure for lymphedema, but the condition can be managed with regular lymph massage sessions, among other treatments.
There are three different methods commonly used by lymphatic drainage therapists, the Vodder, Foldl, or Casley-Smith techniques. All three involve a very light massage. Those who have lymph massage sessions for reasons other than lymphedema may find the Casley-Smith method to be best for them, as it promotes relaxation by incorporating breathing exercises during the massage. People with mild lymphedema may benefit most from the Vodder technique, which uses circular movements to stimulate lymph circulation. The Foldl method involves a combination of physical therapy, compression stockings for the affected limb, and lymph massage and is usually beneficial for more severe cases of lymphedema.
A person’s physician can usually refer those diagnosed with lymphedema to a suitable therapist. The best type of lymph massage for lymphedema usually depends on the severity of swelling and the person’s medical condition and history. Generally, people with lymphedema have manual lymphatic drainage three times per week for a month to rapidly decrease swelling, followed by maintenance sessions every few months.
Manual lymphatic drainage may worsen certain conditions. These include active allergies, blood clots, kidney failure, and some cancers, such as lymphoma. Those interested in lymph massages should first contact their physician to discuss whether this type of massage is suitable for them.