Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT) is a gentle hands on technique developed in the 1990’s by Bruno Chikly, MD, DO. LDT works through the body’s interstitial and lymphatic system to activate the body’s liquid circulation and stimulate the functioning of the immune and parasympathetic nervous systems.

LDT is the first technique that enables practitioners to detect and palpate the specific rhythm, direction, depth and quality of the lymph flow anywhere in the body. With these skills, practitioners can use their hands to assess and enhance overall circulation.

Advanced LDT practitioners can determine the best alternate pathways for draining stagnant body fluid (lymph, interstitial, synovial fluid, etc.) thus responding to the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

LDT is a highly specialized and very gentle manual technique used to encourage the lymphatic system to perform optimally by increasing the speed with which metabolic waste, toxins, excess water, medications, chemotherapy byproducts, and other cellular debris are transported out of the body.

The application of Lymphatic Drainage Therapy actually stimulates the lymph vessels to allow a greater volume of lymph to flow through them in a shorter period of time. It is estimated that with LDT, lymph flow is increased as much as 10 times. At the same time LDT strengthens the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells in the body.

With as much as 20-30 liters of fluid flowing through the vessels, metabolic waste, toxins, and excess water are quickly flushed through the system, thus reducing swelling and healing tissues faster. Any excess fluid is eliminated through urine.

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy: Benefits

Lymphatic Drainage therapy is effective for a number of physical concerns:

  • Reduction of Edema and Lymphedema
  • Reduction in acute inflammatory processes such as post surgical and post trauma injuries, migraine headaches, and swellings of other origins
  • Detoxification
  • Regeneration of tissue (including burns, wounds and wrinkles)
  • Anti-aging effects
  • Relief of chronic inflammation (including sinusitis, bronchitis, otitis, arthritis and even allergic rhinitis)
  • Relief of chronic pain
  • Reduction in the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia
  • Deep relaxation to aid insomnia, stress, loss of vitality and loss of memory

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy: Why It Works

The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system which helps the body fight disease and infection. Within this system lays an intricate network of vessels, nodes and organs all designed to move lymphatic and interstitial fluid which both nourishes and detoxifies the body.  If the lymphatic system is compromised be it from genetic issues, being overworked or impaired because of surgical intervention, illness, stress or even a poor diet, it can become slow and stagnant making recovery a slow process and good health becomes a challenge.

To combat these issues, therapists use rhythmic and specific, wave-like hand movements in a variety of locations which will activate the body’s fluid circulation and increase it as much as 10 times.  This activity further stimulates the functioning of the body’s entire immune system and parasympathetic nervous system increasing production of white blood cells, reducing a variety of inflammatory processes and restoring function.

The more efficiently your lymphatic system is working, the faster your body will be rid of waste, toxins, excess water and other cellular debris it doesn’t need. Lymphatic Drainage therapy assists in the rapid movement of the fluid and toxins to the nodes and organs which act to purify all these excesses and flush them out of the body via elimination.

Both during and after receiving LDT, the immune system should function more efficiently. Clients are able to see and feel a reduction in swelling, pain is reduced or resolved and damaged tissues heal faster. Many clients report feeling extremely relaxed after receiving treatment and express an improved sense of wellbeing.

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy: History

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT) was developed in the 1990’s by Bruno Chikly, MD, DO. While studying the early 1930s work of Drs Emil and Estrid Vodder, pioneers of “lymphology” and Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), Dr. Chikly detected a specific rhythm, direction, depth and quality to lymphatic flow that was consistent with more recent scientific discoveries. Intrigued, he began to develop the first manual lymphatic techniques that would attune him to those findings. To his delight, he found that he could assess and enhance overall circulation as well as determine the best alternate pathways for draining stagnant body fluid (lymph, interstitial, synovial fluid, etc…) He also found that he was able to create significantly higher success rate with his patients than existed before. He has subsequently created a curriculum to teach thousands of therapists worldwide how to apply what is termed manual lymphatic mapping (MLM) to lymph and interstitial fluid pathways in all of the body’s tissues from skin to organ and even to the brain. Therapists are taught how to identify precise areas of fluid stagnation or fibrosis, to find the most appropriate pathways for drainage and direct the flow to the optimal location for elimination.

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy: FAQs

Before we talk about the benefits of this modality as well as how it feels, let’s first understand what comprises the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body's immune system which helps the body fight disease and infection. Within the system lays an intricate and complex network of thin tubes that branch, like blood vessels, into tissues throughout the body which are called lymphatic vessels. These vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. Along this network of vessels are small organs called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarms, groin, neck, chest, and abdomen. Other parts of the lymphatic system are the spleen, thymus, tonsils, and bone marrow. Lymphatic tissue is also found in other parts of the body, including the stomach, intestines, and skin. In all, there are between 400-700 nodes spread throughout the body. Typically two to three liters of lymph are filtered through the lymphatic system daily. Individual muscular units called lymphangions, segments of lymphatic vessels between two valves, pump cyclically to propel lymph. If the lymphatic system is overworked or impaired because of surgical intervention, illness, stress or even a poor diet, it can become slow and stagnant making recovery a slow process and good health becomes a challenge.

Lymphatic Drainage is not new to the medical scene. As early as 1898, Doctor Fège, Professor in medicine at the Necker hospital of Paris, published a piece on a new method of medical massage entitled "The Post-Traumatic Early Massage." Fège recommends the massage to reduce trauma, to evacuate hematomas, notes that scarring is often reduced and that fibrotic tissue is avoided. He also shows, by comparative clinical studies, that the time of functional recovery of patients is significantly decreased. The technique he describes brings into account several systems of the body; the circulatory system, i.e. the veins, the capillary vessels; the lymphatic and tissue systems; and becomes aware of their functional interdependence. In 1922 F.P Millard and Emil Vodder began creating specific procedures for lymphatic care which they called Manual Lymph Drainage. Then in the 1990’s Dr. Bruno Chikly created his original method called Lymphatic Drainage Therapy. It incorporates his years of practice in general medicine and osteopathy, the basic knowledge of Millard and Vodder as well as the more recent scientific discoveries and improvements that have been incorporated into more current bodywork and osteopathic techniques. Today, doctors specializing in everything from cancer to plastic surgery are utilizing LDT as an adjunct to recovery and wellness. Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiothoracic Surgeon and Author of "Healing from the Heart" wrote…"Lymphatics are the next frontier of discovery in human disease. Long ignored because of their subtlety and complexity, the mysteries of our cellular 'waste disposal' system have been comprehensively deciphered by Bruno Chikly."

Lymphatic Drainage is a wonderful modality that can be used regularly for many specific applications and for general health and well being. In addition, it is a tremendous assist in pre and post surgical care. Check out my pre and post Surgical Care Tips page for more information pertaining to surgery. • Enhances Recovery from illness and disease • Oxygenates all tissues • Relieves migraines, tinnitus, insomnia and trigeminal neuralgia • Stimulates and boosts immune system function • Improves metabolism • Painful or swollen breasts • Detoxification of the body • Reduction in edemas (swelling) and lymphedemas of various origins: sprains, bruises, surgery • Relief of numerous chronic and subacute inflammations, including sinusitis, bronchitis and otitis. Relief of chronic pain • Regeneration of tissue, including burns, wounds, stretch marks and wrinkles; improves skin’s appearance • Reduction in the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. • Antispastic actions to relieve conditions such as muscle hypertonus and some forms of constipation or irritable bowel syndrome • Deep relaxation to aid insomnia, stress, loss of vitality and loss of memory • Anti-aging effects

The gentle and relaxing manual technique improves the activity of the lymph vessels by mild mechanical stretches on the wall of the lymph collectors. LDT can also re-route lymph materials around areas that are blocked as a result of surgery. LDT therapists are trained to understand how to identify different qualities of lymph flow, lymphatic drainage patterns, mapping of superficial and deep lymphatic pathways and how to facilitate them safely. For the techniques to be effective, therapists must have a keen understanding of lymphatic drainage patterns and techniques for the drainage of fascia, muscles, organs, periosteum, bones, etc. LDT therapists are also trained to work with other fluids, including the interstitial fluid, synovial fluid, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), blood (veins and arteries). Essentially every part of the body can be assessed and assisted by Lymphatic Drainage Therapy.

When considering this question, please note that most conditions arise gradually over time. It will take time for therapy to work. Give yourself the time you need in order to heal 100%. Initially sessions may be once or twice per week, however all bodies are different. Some people may get complete relief on their first session. Others may require additional treatment --up to three or more per week over the course of several weeks. It really depends on the client and the actual problem that the client is having. Clients with chronic or debilitating situations often require long-term therapy and the frequency of sessions usually reduces over time. I always like to educate my clients on how they can manage self treatment which will help reduce the number of sessions needed and maintain the work we’ve accomplished together.

In the broadest sense, most everyone feels a deep sense of relaxation. It is impossible; however, to predict what you may feel. Each person's perception and sensitivity varies. The highly perceptive client may feel a variety of sensations as the therapist works. A client who is less attuned may find some of the techniques unnoticeable. There are even some who don't feel any sensation at the beginning of a session but then gradually do feel sensation as the session goes on. Some people, who are particularly burdened with pain, may feel slight discomfort for short periods until nodes are fully open and vessels have cleared waste. Some people feel fatigued or achy after their first few sessions but with self treatment and drinking a lot of water, most symptoms can be alleviated very quickly.

There are some relative contraindications and precautions for LDT and your therapist should be aware of them. LDT should only be performed when a patient’s symptoms are in recession. It should not be performed when the patient is experiencing an acute problem. Edema and lymphedema are both good indications and contraindications for lymph drainage therapy. If the origins of the edemas and their specific complications are known, a highly trained therapist can address the issues. Some patients require bandaging and should be seen by therapists who have that training and available equipment. Patients with following conditions need to be treated carefully: untreated thyroid, carotid stenosis or thrombosis, bronchial asthma and allergies, burns, fresh scars, skin hypersensitivity (RSDS), bruises, eczema, abdominal surgery, radiation, tumor, undetermined bleeding or pain, removed spleen, major kidney problems, menstruation, gynecological infections, fibromas, cysts, pregnancy, chronic infection/inflammation, medication, chemotherapy, anesthesia, orthostatic hypotension.

LDT sessions generally last between 45 minutes and one hour. Initial sessions usually last longer so that a proper evaluation and client history can be taken. Typical fees range from $40 to $200 per session.

Some clients are uncomfortable removing their clothing so I suggest wearing shorts and a sports bra. For those recovering from surgery, it may be necessary to be disrobed but fully draped by a sheet. Your therapist will be well versed in draping and be sure to make you comfortable throughout the session.

Interview your potential therapist as you would any practitioner of health. Talk with him/her to find out what his/her attitude and approach is. If you feel that his/her approach is suitable for your needs, give him/her a try. The more training and experience a therapist has, the better the potential outcome. You can look at International Association of Healthcare Practitioners to locate practitioners in your area.

Yes, LDT techniques are noninvasive and can be easily utilized. LDT should not be used for children (or adults for that matter) when there is fever or acute infection, bleeding or phlebitis.

Yes, athletes of any age can benefit from lymphatic drainage but all bleeding must have stopped and any broken or dislocated bones must be set. For the athlete in a competition, LDT is particularly helpful for muscle spasms, cramps and pain. It can even be helpful to drain the body of waste and lactic acid between events.