What is Manual Lymph Drainage?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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Manual lymph drainage is a style of bodywork which is designed to promote the free flow of lymph through the body. It is used specifically in the treatment of lymphedema, a condition characterized by fluid retention at key points in the body, and some people also believe that manual lymph drainage detoxifies and promotes general health and well being. A doctor should be consulted before making an appointment for manual lymph drainage, as this type of massage can be contraindicated for certain medical conditions, most particularly cancer.

In a manual lymph drainage session, the therapist uses a variety of massage strokes to gently stimulate the lymphatic system, usually working with a nude and draped client, although clients can also wear undergarments if they feel more comfortable that way. If the client has lymphadema, the focus will be on the affected region, but the whole body will be treated so that circulation is increased. Special attention is often paid to the lymph nodes, with the massage therapist looking for early signs of blockage.

Clients are encouraged to drink water before and after manual lymph drainage, and people should be aware that many people feel the need to urinate during and after manual lymph drainage, as excess fluid is processed by the kidneys. If a client does need to urinate during a session, a robe can be provided so that the client can use the bathroom.


This style of massage is very gentle, making it suitable for people of all ages. It was developed in the 1930s by Dr. Emil Vodder, a European therapist who worked with spa patients. He noticed that many patients with recurring sinusitis and infections had enlarged lymph nodes, and theorized that manual lymph drainage could be used to help clean out the lymphatic system and to encourage the lymphatic system to drain more efficiently in the future.

In addition to people with cancer, people with cellulitis, fever, and any type of infection should refrain from manual lymph drainage. The massage can cause the infectious agent to spread in the body, potentially creating harmful complications. Manual lymph drainage may also be contraindicated for other medical conditions, making a doctor's consult a good idea. Medical conditions should also be disclosed to the massage therapist, so that he or she can determine whether or not someone is a good candidate for this massage technique.


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