This deceptively gentle treatment can have a powerful effect on any swelling or puffiness in the body.

It is widely used for medical purposes and there is lots of research to back the beneficial effects of lymphatic drainage on recovery after surgery. It has also been found to be effective for:

  • Helping bruising to heal more quickly
  • Pain management
  • Preventing infection
  • Treating lymphedema caused by cancer treatment
  • Promoting the healing of fractures and ligaments and reducing the associated pain
  • Promoting the healing of wounds including burns
  • Improving scars and stretch marks
  • After cosmetic surgery
  • Improving chronic conditions such as sinusitis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Swollen ankles and hands in pregnancy
  • Assisting with detoxing

Because of the effect the massage has on puffiness, it also makes for a great facial too.

You will find it described differently according to where the therapist has trained, but you can be confident that massage described as manual lymphatic drainage, MLD, Vodder Technique, Combined Decongestive Therapy or Casely Smith Method of Lymphatic Drainage are all good. If you are not sure which to pick, ask the therapist if they are trained to work with the issues you want help with.

What happens?

Once you have given your therapist a medical history and gone through the issues you want addressing, they will be able to advise on lifestyle changes, teach you self-massage and other exercises that will help to manage your symptoms.

The touch is a very slow and light stroking on the skin; this opens up the lymph vessels, which are close beneath the surface. The work isn't just confined to the problem area but treats the whole of the lymphatic system, usually starting at the chest; the rhythmic movement of the skin moves the lymph back towards the heart.

Combined Decongestive Therapists also use special bandages or compression garments after the treatment, which move the lymph between treatments and prevent the lymph from accumulating again.

You will usually be recommended to have a weekly course of treatments, depending on the severity of the issues you want to address.

Who should get this massage?

Anyone with the sort of symptoms listed above will benefit; despite the gentle touch, lymphatic drainage works effectively on swelling which deep tissue or Swedish massage cannot. However there are still some times when lymphatic drainage might be harmful, for example if you have:

  • An infection or inflammation in the swollen area
  • A blood clot
  • Heart problems
  • Active cancer in the area
  • Deep vein thrombosis

Why does it work?

The lymph is part of the immune system, a colourless fluid containing the white blood cells, which bathes the tissues and drains back into the blood stream, shifting the metabolic waste, excess fluid and bacteria away from your tissues. There is no central pump to move the fluid; instead it relies on the pumping effect of nearby muscles to return it to circulation. The massage manually moves the lymphatic fluid to the lymph nodes and ducts when your body cannot.


Lymphatic drainage was pioneered by Dr Emil Vodder in the 1930's. He created a range of movements initially treating sinus conditions and congestion while working in the French Riviera. His research lead to the development of lymphatic drainage for lymphedema.