How to Massage Leg Edema

According to the National Institutes of Health, edema is unnatural swelling of a body part 2. Usually occurring in the feet and legs, it is caused by fluid buildup in the tissues. Causes range from high sodium intake to liver disease, cancer and heart failure. A specific form of massage known as lymphatic drainage can help reduce this swelling.

Obtain medical permission. Edema should be massaged only by therapists who have specific training in working with such patients. Edema is usually a symptom of a much more serious medical condition, and improperly applying massage therapy to the affected region can increase swelling.

What Are the Treatments for Foot Lymphedema?

Learn More

Apply the techniques of manual lymphatic drainage massage. According to Massage and Bodywork magazine, these techniques are designed to remove fluid by re-creating the normal functions of the lymphatic system 1.

Using a very gentle touch, massage the leg in the direction of lymph flow (toward the heart). Such techniques can be so light that only a finger is necessary to apply the touch. Start by working the area closest to the trunk. Perform short, fluid strokes throughout the area.

Causes of Only One Lower Leg Swelling With Pain

Learn More

Move downward on the limb and repeat these light, fluid strokes. Always move the stroke in the direction of the heart. These strokes encourage the accumulated fluid to drain using the normal pathways of the lymphatic system.

Repeat the steps numerous times. When performing a session of lymphatic massage, it is not rare to spend an entire hour methodically repeating the steps on the affected limb.


A patient with edema might be under a number of stresses that relate to his underlying condition. Consider performing gentle massage strokes to other areas of the body to help increase overall relaxation.


If you do not have proper training, refer the client to someone who specializes in lymphatic drainage massage. If the touch is too firm, or if the massage therapist performs the strokes in the improper direction, swelling can increase and become more difficult to reverse.