What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Lymph nodes, which are located throughout the body, are considered part of the immune system. The nodes help filter out waste. The waste becomes part of the lymph fluid, which is eventually excreted from the body. If the lymph nodes become damaged, the fluid may not flow efficiently and it can accumulate which causes swelling. This condition is called lymphedema and usually occurs in one or more limbs.

Damage to the lymph nodes may occur as a result of cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy. Many times a surgeon will remove lymph nodes to perform a biopsy if cancer is suspected. Removing the nodes, disrupts the flow of lymph fluid from the body and can also lead to lymphedema.

Manual lymphatic drainage, is a specialized type of massage technique often used to help treat lymphedema. It involves gentle massage techniques, which help promote fluid drainage from the swollen limb. When it is performed on a regular basis, it may also help prevent fluid accumulation from developing in the first place.


In addition to treating lymphedema, manual lymphatic drainage may also be used to help promote fluid drainage to help detoxify the body. Some therapists use it treat sinus conditions and arthritis. Individuals who are using lymphatic drainage to treat a medical condition should first speak to their doctor to determine if it’s safe for their individual condition. Although every situation may be different, usually manual lymphatic drainage is not recommend if the swollen limb is infected.

When looking for a therapist to do manual lymphatic drainage, it’s important to find a therapist who is trained in one the recognized methods. Two of the most common methods of doing the lymph drainage are the Vodder method and the Casey-Smith method. Both methods are named after the practitioners who developed the techniques and are the most widely taught methods at massage schools.

Individuals who perform manual lymphatic drainage are usually certified massage therapists or registered nurses, who have had additional, specialized training in lymphatic massage. The National Lymphedema Network is a non-profit organization started to provide education and resources to individuals with lymphedema. The organization can provide a list of qualified manual lymphatic therapists.

Certified manual lymphatic drainage therapists may be able to teach clients a modified version of the massage they can perform on themselves. Although it will not be as extensive as a treatment by a therapist, it may help reduce symptoms between treatments. It’s best to get a doctor's approval before attempting self lymphatic massage.



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