Home Therapies Lymphatic drainage: areas of application, method, effect

Lymphatic drainage: areas of application, method, effect

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 184 views

Lymphatic drainage (decongestion therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, MLD) is a special, medical form of massage. It is part of the “complex physical decongestion therapy” and is used for congestion in the tissue fluid (lymphedema). Read everything you need to know about this procedure, when it is done and what the risks are.

What is lymphatic drainage?

Lymph drainage is used to treat lymphedema. Lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic drainage is disturbed as a result of a chronic, inflammatory disease of the interstitium (space between cells, tissues, organs), so that fluid builds up in the tissue. This can be recognized by a clearly visible swelling. Lymphedema often occurs in the limbs; however, lymphedema can also form on the face.

Lymphedema can be congenital (primary lymphedema). Much more often, however, they are caused by another disease. Such secondary lymphedema is usually caused by cancer. For the treating therapist, every lymphedema is suspected of being cancerous until the opposite is proven.

In the initial phase of treatment for lymphedema, patients should receive lymphatic drainage once or twice a day. This can happen on an outpatient or inpatient basis. The “complex physical decongestion therapy” knows a total of four basic procedures for lymphedema:

  • Compression therapy using bandages
  • Relaxing movement exercises
  • skincare
  • Manual lymph drainage

Legs and arms are particularly affected by lymphedema and can therefore be treated well with lymphatic drainage. However, the face and torso can also be treated with this procedure.

The effect of lymphatic drainage is essentially based on four effects, namely the decongesting, pain-relieving and muscle-relaxing effects as well as a strengthening effect on the immune system. However, the latter effect is medically controversial.

When is lymphatic drainage performed?

Edema therapy is often used for the following diseases:

  • Chronic Lymphedema
  • Chronic venous insufficiency (often visible in the form of “ varicose veins ”)
  • Postoperative swelling

Lymphatic drainage can also be beneficial for other diseases, but the therapeutic value is lower. These include:

In addition, there are other, non-illness-related areas of application for lymphatic drainage: Pregnancy, for example, can lead to edema in women, which occurs mainly in the evening and after standing for a long time. These do not necessarily require treatment, but can be very distressing for a pregnant woman. Then a lymphatic drainage helps. Cellulite is another area of ​​application. However, the effect of lymphatic drainage has not been scientifically proven. 

When is lymph drainage not advisable?

Lymphatic drainage should not be used in certain medical conditions. These include:

What do you do with a lymphatic drainage?

During lymphatic drainage, the lymphatic vessels should be stimulated and the lymphatic fluid removed more efficiently. Increased blood flow or activation of pain receptors in the skin is not the goal of lymphatic drainage. “Massage” in its classic form, on the other hand, works through both mechanisms.

The therapist achieves the special effect of lymphatic drainage with circular movements. The following four basic handles are particularly important:

  • standing circle
  • pump grip
  • scoop handle
  • Drehgriff

These handles are basically used. Depending on the cause of the edema, so-called “supplementary grips” are then added.

After the treatment, the relevant part of the body is wrapped (“compression therapy”). This prevents the edema from forming again after the manual lymphatic drainage has ended. Lymphatic drainage should be performed by a specially trained physiotherapist.  

Lymphatic drainage of the head and neck region

Lymphatic drainage in the head and neck region usually begins at the neck or shoulder. It is therefore also referred to as “basic therapy”. The therapist begins the treatment, then slowly works from the trunk to the extremities. This is followed by lymph drainage on the face. This type of lymphatic drainage usually results in a very extensive “relaxation effect”. Eyes, jaw , forehead and nose are treated individually and one after the other.

Lymphatic drainage of the extremities and trunk

The extremities are also often the starting point for lymphatic drainage: arms and legs are often affected by lymphedema. For example, during radiation therapy for breast cancer or a lymph node removal in the armpit, edema develops in the arm.  

Treatment on the arms begins in the armpit area before working your way up the upper arm to the hands . Here, too, the basic grips may be expanded to include supplementary grips. On the legs, you start with the lymphatic drainage on the groin (knees and buttocks can be treated with special grips).

What are the risks of lymphatic drainage?

If lymphatic drainage is carried out properly by a trained therapist and certain clinical pictures have been ruled out in advance, there are usually no risks.

What do I have to consider after a lymphatic drainage?

No special behavior is required after lymphatic drainage. However, there are things you can do to prevent lymphedema from coming back so quickly:

  • Clothing : Be careful not to wear tight or constricting clothing, which further impedes lymphatic drainage. The same goes for watches, jewelry and footwear.
  • Skin care : As there is an increased risk of infection with lymphoedema, you should carefully care for your skin, preferably with a pH-neutral cream. Be careful when caring for your nails – even small injuries can be entry points for pathogens. You may want to consider medical pedicure.
  • Household : Wear gloves when doing housework or gardening! Elevate your legs regularly to improve lymph drainage.
  • Free time : When it comes to sporting activities, you should limit yourself to “light” movements (walking, Nordic walking, swimming , etc.). Avoid extensive sunbathing, visits to the sauna or solarium – this will damage your skin!

Basically, lymphatic drainage is an effective and safe method of treating lymphedema that is well tolerated. 

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