What does a physical therapist do for Lymphatic drainage?

Lymphatic drainage (LD) is a gentle massage technique that helps to move lymph fluid throughout the body.

A physical therapist can perform LD to help reduce swelling and improve lymphatic drainage. The therapist will use their hands to apply gentle pressure to the affected area. This helps to move the lymph fluid towards the lymph nodes, where it can be filtered and returned to the bloodstream.

What is lymphatic drainage?

Lymphatic drainage is a process that helps the body to remove waste and toxins. It is done through a network of vessels and nodes that carry lymph fluid throughout the body. Lymph fluid contains white blood cells, antibodies, and other immune cells that help to protect the body from infection and disease.

Types of lymphoedema

Primary lymphoedema is caused by a gene mutation that affects the development of the lymphatic system. It can be present at birth or develop later in life.

Secondary lymphoedema is caused by damage to the lymphatic system. This can be caused by:

  • Cancer surgery: Cancer surgery may remove lymph nodes or damage lymphatic vessels, which can disrupt the flow of lymph fluid.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy can damage lymphatic vessels and nodes.
  • Infection: Infections of the lymphatic system, such as lymphangitis and cellulitis, can damage the lymphatic vessels and nodes.
  • Trauma: Injuries to the lymphatic system, such as fractures, burns, and insect bites, can damage the lymphatic vessels and nodes.
  • Other medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as chronic venous insufficiency, heart failure, and obesity, can increase the risk of developing lymphoedema.

Lymphoedema can also develop during pregnancy, although it usually resolves after childbirth.

What are lymphatic drainage symptoms?

The most common symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in all or part of an arm or leg, including fingers or toes. Other symptoms may include:

  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness in the affected area
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Recurring infections
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
  • Folds developing in the skin
  • Wart-like growths develop on the skin
  • Fluid leaking through the skin

Lymphoedema can also cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to reduce the severity of the condition and improve quality of life.

Physical therapy helps with ACL injury

What does a physical therapist do for lymphedema?

A physical therapist can do a lot to help people with lymphedema.

Some of the things a physical therapist can do for lymphedema include:

  • Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD): MLD is a gentle massage technique that helps to move lymph fluid throughout the body.
  • Compression therapy: Compression therapy involves wearing compression stockings or sleeves to help reduce swelling and improve lymph drainage.
  • Exercise: Exercise can help to improve circulation and lymph drainage. It is important to choose exercises that are low-impact and do not put too much pressure on the affected area.
  • Education: Physical therapists can teach people with lymphedema how to manage their condition and reduce their risk of complications.

Physical therapists can also develop individualized treatment plans for people with lymphedema. These plans may include specific exercises, massage techniques, and self-care strategies.

Here are some specific examples of how a physical therapist can help people with lymphedema:

  • Reduce swelling: Physical therapists can help to reduce swelling in the arms and legs caused by lymphedema by using MLD and compression therapy.
  • Improve range of motion: Physical therapists can help to improve the range of motion in the affected limbs by teaching people with lymphedema gentle exercises.
  • Strengthen muscles: Physical therapists can help to strengthen the muscles in the affected limbs to improve function and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Reduce pain: Physical therapists can help to reduce pain in the affected limbs by using MLD, compression therapy, and other modalities.
  • Improve quality of life: Physical therapists can help people with lymphedema improve their quality of life by teaching them how to manage their condition and reduce their risk of complications.

If you have lymphedema, it is important to see a physical therapist who has experience treating this condition.

How does exercise help lymphatic drainage?

Exercise helps lymphatic drainage in a few ways.

First, it helps to pump the lymph fluid throughout the body. When muscles contract, they put pressure on the lymphatic vessels, which helps to move the lymph fluid along.

Second, exercise helps to increase the production of lymph fluid. When the body is working hard, it needs to produce more lymph fluid to transport oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and remove waste products.

Third, exercise helps to reduce inflammation. Inflammation can cause the lymphatic vessels to shrink, making it more difficult for lymph fluid to flow. Exercise helps to reduce inflammation, which can improve lymphatic drainage.

Some specific exercises that can help to improve lymphatic drainage include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai chi
  • Rebounding
  • Dry brushing

It is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts over time. It is also important to listen to your body and stop exercising if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Here are some additional tips for improving lymphatic drainage:

  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps to thin the lymph fluid and make it easier to flow.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet helps to reduce inflammation and improve the overall health of the lymphatic system.
  • Avoid tight clothing. Tight clothing can restrict the flow of lymph fluid.
  • Get regular massages. Massages can help to stimulate the lymphatic system and improve drainage.


Do physiotherapists do lymphatic drainage?

Yes, physiotherapists can do lymphatic drainage. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a type of massage that helps to move lymph fluid throughout the body.

Does PT or OT treat lymphedema?

Both physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) can treat lymphedema. Both professions have the training and expertise to provide manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), compression therapy, and exercise therapy to help reduce swelling and improve function in people with lymphedema.

Can physical therapy help with swelling?

Yes, physical therapy can help with swelling.

Can physical therapy help swollen lymph nodes?

Yes, physical therapy can help swollen lymph nodes. Physical therapists can use a variety of techniques to help reduce swelling, improve circulation, and boost the immune system.

Is massage OK for lymphedema?

Yes, massage is OK for lymphedema, but it is important to get the right type of massage from a qualified therapist.


Physical therapy plays an important role in improving lymphatic drainage and supporting the overall health of individuals. Through a combination of manual techniques, exercise, education, and a holistic approach, physical therapists empower patients to take control of their lymphatic health. Whether dealing with lymphedema, post-surgery recovery, or other lymphatic challenges, physical therapy offers hope, relief, and a path toward improved well-being.

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I am a highly skilled and experienced content writer with a Doctorate in Therapy degree. With a deep understanding of the human body and a passion for health and wellness. I combines my clinical expertise and writing skills to create valuable and engaging content.

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