Lymph Drainage Therapy

Treating cancer may involve the use of chemotherapyradiation, and or surgery, but these treatments are not without their side effects. For certain types of cancer, like mesothelioma, treatment may involve lymph drainage therapy, a process by which the skin is gently massaged in certain areas of the body to increase lymphatic activity that has been hindered by lymphedema.


Lymphedema is the result of excess buildup of lymphatic fluid in the lymph nodes, preventing the lymph nodes from draining properly. Lymphedema causes severe swelling in these locations, usually the arms or legs, and it can be extremely painful. Lymphedema can also arise due to damage of the lymph nodes during radiation therapy. Although lymphedema is a permanent condition, it can be managed with manual lymphatic drainage therapy. This form of treatment originated in the 1930s in Europe. During this procedure, the affected area is manipulated by massaging gently in the direction of the lymph flow.

The Procedure

During manual lymph drainage, a certified massage therapist or physical therapist may utilize one of four effective techniques to encourage lymph drainage. The rotary technique is achieved by using the palms to massage the skin in a circular motion. The wrists are used to apply or relieve stroke pressure. During the the pump technique, the therapist places the palms downward and uses the fingers and thumbs to make oval strokes to encourage lymph flow. Stationary circles use the fingertips to apply strokes in continuous spirals over the neck, face and lymphatic nodes. And finally, the scoop strokes technique uses the palms facing upward with fingers outstretched. Twisting strokes are applied to the skin to encourage lymphatic flow.

Few risks are involved with lymph drainage therapy. Usually, a massage therapist who works with cancer patients is trained in the administration of lymph drainage therapy. This is good news considering that this method may be the only option that some patients have to manage this painful condition. Despite this technique’s effectiveness, it is not promoted as or considered to be a treatment or cure for cancer.  In fact, it is most often used after cancer treatment, which sometimes causes lymphedema.


Breast Cancer Support Services

Doylestown Hospital