Manual lymphatic drainage is a massage technique that removes lymph congestion in the tissue. The physiotherapist or masseur, who is trained in lymph drainage, uses specific hand movements and may bandage the area to promote the removal of lymph.

Lymph is a light yellowish, aqueous liquid that is present almost everywhere in the body in the lymphatic vessels. It serves the removal of nutrients and waste from and to the cells. In addition, it serves as a defense to the immune system, because the lymph liquid transports bacteria and other pathogens to the lymph nodes, where they are disposed of.

Important transport system

Beside blood circulation, the lymphatic system is the most important transport system of the body. For comparison: While 3.5 to 5 liters of blood flow through the veins of an adult, between 6 and 10 liters of lymph circulate in the lymphatic vessels.

Women in particular suffer from severely swollen legs due to so-called primary lymphedema. This is a congenital malformation of the lymphatic system (too few, too narrow or too wide lymph vessels), these however, usually do not occur until adulthood.

More frequently occurring is secondary lymphedema, which is caused by injuries or operations. As a result, the fluid can no longer flow smoothly in the intercellular spaces and a swelling forms. For example: if you twist the foot while walking or jogging, the ligaments in the ankle may be overstretched or even torn. This is doubly painful, because the injury triggers not only direct pain but also bruising and lymphoedema, which in turn produces a painful feeling of tension. The injured area can swell so much that the foot can hardly be moved, slowing down the healing process.

Stimulation must be repeated regularly

In cases like these, lymphatic drainage helps. The therapist massages the skin and subcutaneous fatty tissue with varied pressure. The lymphatic vessels are stimulated with rhythmic, circular or pumping movements, thus facilitating the flow of the lymph. The treatment must be repeated regularly, depending on the severity of the injury this may be once or several times a week.

The effect of manual lymphatic drainage lasts about 24 hours. Therefore, a specialized physiotherapist or medical masseur not only assures the manual lymphatic drainage but also the bandages the area. Compression bandages are tightly wrapped around the affected arms or legs. The pressure from the bandaged area supports the removal of the lymph and thus also the reduction of lymphoedema.