Lymphatic drainage is a form of massage that stimulates the lymph system, the circulatory network that moves lymph fluid from tissues into the bloodstream. Lymph is an important component in the body's immune system, carrying white blood cells to fight bacteria and infection. When there is lymphatic blockage, however, bacteria-fighting cells cannot get to the infected area.
The gentle, rhythmic massage performed during lymphatic drainage stimulates stagnant lymph flow and eliminates metabolic waste products, excess fluid and bacteria. If the massage is too vigorous or too firm, it can compress the lymphatic vessels, stopping lymph flow.
Candidates for Lymphatic Drainage
Patients who have had radiation treatment or lymph-node-removal surgery for various cancers, including prostate, breast and pelvic-area cancers, are at higher risk for developing lymphedema, a condition in which lymph fluid backs up and causes swelling. Although lymphedema usually affects the arms and legs, it can also affect other areas, including the breast, abdomen and neck, that have been treated for cancer.
In addition to treating lymphedema, lymphatic drainage is used to:
- Clear congested areas (such as swollen ankles and puffy eyes)
- Promote healing of scar tissue, torn ligaments and sprains
- Improve chronic conditions (such as sinusitis, arthritis and acne)
- Promote overall deep relaxation
A patient who has a heart problem, a blood clot or an infection in the swollen area is not a good candidate for lymphatic drainage. The procedure can also alter blood sugar levels, and promote the flow of toxins through the body, so a patient with diabetes or diminished kidney function is also not considered a suitable candidate.
The Lymphatic Drainage Procedure
Lymphatic drainage is typically performed by doctors, nurses, and physical or occupational therapists, or massage therapists trained in lymphatic massage. To stay hydrated, a patient is usually advised to drink water before and after the procedure. During the session, which usually lasts about an hour, the patient's skin is gently stroked, rubbed or pushed in the direction of the lymphatic system's structure, allowing the fluid to drain through the proper ducts. A properly administered lymphatic massage should not be painful or cause bruising.