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tcm-shanghai  >  Blog   >  FAQs about Lymphatic Drainage

FAQs about Lymphatic Drainage

What is lymphatic drainage?

Manual lymphatic drainage is a type of gentle, targeted massage used to encourage drainage of the lymphatic system, which carries waste products away from the tissues and back toward the heart. It is a highly effective treatment for chronic edema (swelling).

What causes lymphedema (AKA edema)?

The lymphatic system is an important part of our circulatory system, processing large amounts of body fluid and filtering waste products, bacteria and viruses (you can feel swollen lymphatic nodes when suffering from tonsillitis for example). The lymph system depends on the contractions of the smooth muscle cells in the walls of lymph vessels and the movement of skeletal muscles to propel fluid through the vessels to lymph nodes and on to the heart.

When this system cannot process the fluids, whether due to primary edema (inborn inadequate lymphatic system) or secondary edema caused by injury or illness, a person develops swelling which can become severe and lead to complications.

Who typically needs manual lymphatic drainage?

Cancer treatment related to the lymph nodes is a common cause of edema. In Shanghai, cancer patients are often referred to me for lymphatic drainage. Most cancer doctors and nurses are aware of the potential problems of edemas and encourage patients to get treatment early. If left too long the swollen area can become hard (and result in skin deterioration and loss of movement) due to the waste combining with proteins between cells. Insurance generally covers this treatment.

People with vein or blood vessel problems also experience edema. Often they experience problems in the foot and lower leg, for which they wear pressure socks to reduce day-to-day swelling. Since the lymphatic system resides primarily near the skin’s surface, someone who experiences an injury to a large part of the skin’s surface will often develop problems with edema.

What is done during treatment and how does it feel to the patient?

Manual lymphatic drainage consists of a gentle type of massage, using a specific amount of pressure and motions to stimulate lymph flow. The aim of the massage is to move fluid from the swollen area into an area where the lymphatic system is working normally. It feels like a very gentle massage to the area.

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