In order to understand what lymphatic drainage is, it is useful to have a basic understanding of what the lymphatic system is.

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system has two roles in the body: transport and defence (in the immune system).  It carries a fluid called lymph, which is similar to blood plasma; but is more rich in lymphocytes (cells that fight off toxins and pathogens or a type of white blood cell). The system has a network similar to the cardiovascular system, however there is no “pump” for the lymph. The lymph moves throughout the body by either actively moving around or manipulating it manually.

The lymph system has a network of vessels that carry lymph from the surrounding tissue to the lymphatic system, as well as a bunch of lymph nodes.

What are lymph nodes?

You’ve probably felt a lymph node before underneath your skin. They feel like little balls of tissue underneath the skin. They are bean shaped glands that carry lymph between the body and the bloodstream.

Where are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are located throughout the body in groups. Some areas they are clustered in are: The neck, beside the ears, armpits, front of the hips, behind the knee, on the front of the elbow.

Why do lymph nodes swell?

If you’ve ever gotten sick, you may have noticed that your neck felt especially sore or that you were achy all over. Sometimes if you press on certain areas where the nodes are a clustered you may have felt little ball/bean shaped  things underneath the skin that were sore.

The reason they were swollen was because your body was fighting off an infection. The lymphocytes identify and bring the infected cells to lymph nodes to fight the infection.

Another rarer reason they might swell is due to breast cancer or lymphoma (which is the cancer of the lymphocytes).

If the doctors catch breast cancer early they sometimes remove the lymph nodes  from the breast and the armpit. This causes some issues with the way the lymph moves within the area and sometimes causes the lymph to be stuck or stagnated in the area; this is called lymphedema.



How do you prevent or control  lymphedema after a mastectomy?

  • Avoid injury to your affected limb
  • Resting the limb while recovering
  • Elevate the limb while recovering
  • Avoid things that might trigger an inflammation response
  • Try not to get sick
  • Eat less fried/processed foods
  • And last but not least Massage Therapy!

How does Massage help lymphedema?  

Registered Massage Therapists go through training in order to manipulate the lymphatic system through a technique called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). A typical MLD treatment consists of a very light touch and a slow pace; this is due to the lymph vessels being in the upper layers

of the skin.

When should I get MLD?

  • If you have had a lymph nodes removed and are suffering from lymphedema
  • Have had a surgery with persistent swelling


When should I avoid MLD?

If you have:

  • Chronic congestive heart failure
  • Acute inflammation with infection
  • Acute allergic reactions
  • Thrombus (clot ) that is untreated

If this sounds like it would benefit you, call and book an appointment today!

-Sean Li, RMT