Lymphatic Massage Therapy

What is Lymphatic Massage, Lymphatic Drainage, and Manual Lymph Drainage?

This is a technique developed in Germany for treatment of lymphedema, which is an accumulation of fluid that can occur after lymph nodes are removed, damaged, or traumatized in certain types of surgery for melanoma, colon or prostate cancer for example. Other methods where lymph nodes can be damaged are by radiation treatment, infection, or trauma. Lymphedema can be present at birth or develop for unknown reasons at puberty or during adulthood; this type of lymphedema is called primary lymphedema.

The Lymph System

Most of us are familiar with the body’s vessel system that carries blood to the tissues, but there is another equally important system of vessels that remove cell waste, proteins, excessive fluid, and viruses and bacteria. The lymph system picks up fluids and waste products from the capillary vessels and then filters and cleans them. Lymph vessels are found throughout the body; most of them, about 70%, are found just below the skin. While this superficial system requires the need for gentle massage techniques or pressure applied by manual massage, the deep lymphatic system is drained by muscle contractions and/or exercise.

Additional Therapies that can Work in Conjunction with Lymphatic Massage

In addition to lymphatic massage, patients can be advised to do self massage following instructions from their therapist, as well as light exercises to encourage the flow of lymphatic fluid out of the affected limb. Some patients are also advised to wear compression garments such as sleeves or stockings designated to compress the arm or the leg and encourage lymphatic flow out of the limb. The combination of these therapies plus the lymphatic massage is called decongestant therapy (CDT).


Although a lymphatic massage is seen to be most beneficial after damage to the lymph system, there can be certain conditions with associated complications that benefit from lymphatic massage therapy. After a sports injury, surgery, lymph vessels can become overwhelmed with the demand placed on them, especially when activity is limited and the soft tissue is painful to deep tissue work. Lymphatic massage can also be a part of a care program for fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, because of its gentle approach and being well tolerated by these patients. There is little evidence of any effects of manual lymph massage for conditions of insomnia, memory loss, obesity, or for antiaging effects.

Practitioners of Lymphatic Massage?

Lymphatic drainage and massage practitioners may be physicians, nurses, physical or occupational therapists, or massage therapists. In addition to their traditional course work, most require additional instruction in lymphedema therapy. Guidelines for training and qualified therapists have been established by the Lymphology Association of North America, American Academy of Lymphatic Studies, and the Lymphedema Association of Manitoba.