How to Stimulate Lymphatic Drainage

By Jacqueline Trovato ; Updated July 27, 2017

Your lymphathic system circulates fluid and harmful substances through your body to the lymph nodes where infection-fighting cells flush them from your body. When your lymph vessels become impaired (lymphedema) your system doesn’t drain properly. This often occurs because of a disease or health condition you have, or sometimes it manifests on its own for unknown reasons. Although currently incurable, learning how to stimulate lymphatic drainage will help remove these harmful substances.

How to Stimulate Lymphatic Drainage

Get some exercise. Even a bit of light exercise encourages the flow of fluids in your lymphatic system. Don’t do a strenuous workout, but work on gently contracting the muscles in your arms and legs. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who can provide instruction on specific exercises to promote lymphatic drainage.

Wrap your affected arms or legs. Again, with the advice and instruction from your doctor or a lymphatic therapist, wrap bandages around the arm(s) or leg(s) that need draining. The wrappings stimulate the flow of lymph fluid out of your arm or leg towards the center of your body.

Wrap the bandage tightly around your fingers and toes. Then proceed up your arm or leg, wrapping the bandage with a looser tension than you did on your fingers and toes. This helps the fluid flow out of your limbs into your lymph nodes where it can drain from your body.

Get a special massage called a manual lymph drainage massage. Be sure your doctor recommends this treatment, because for some patients the pain can injure delicate tissues; for example, where a cancer patient has undergone radiation therapy. Lymph drainage massage stimulates the flow of lymph fluid from your arm(s) or leg(s). A trained massage therapist uses special hand strokes to gently move the lymph fluid from your arm or leg towards the lymph nodes where fluid drains from your body.

Ask your doctor if he recommends pneumatic compression to stimulate lymphatic drainage. You wear a sleeve connected to a pump that inflates and deflates it, putting pressure on your arm or leg. The pumping and pressure moves the lymph fluid away from your extremities and reduces the swelling in your arm or leg.

Ask your doctor if you should wear compression garments every day. These long sleeves or compresses your arm or leg, stimulating lymphatic drainage from the limb. After the drainage has occurred, your doctor may want you to continue wearing the garments to prevent fluid from returning to your arm or leg. Get help from your doctor or other health care professional to fit you properly, or purchase custom-made garments.

Try a number of these treatments combined; known as complete decongestant therapy (CDT), if your doctor advises. But this isn’t advised if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, blood clots, diabetes, paralysis or any kind of infection.

For cases so severe that none of this therapy provide benefits, your doctor may suggest removing excess tissue in your arm or leg to help reduce the swelling.

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