Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT)
The lymphatic system is a vital but often ignored aspect that is essential for the body’s function. The primary components of the lymphatic system are the spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes. Together, these components serve to train and direct the body’s immune system cells to sites where they are needed. Lymph vessels form the channels for communication between the aforementioned components.
The lymphatic system is considered part of the body’s circulatory system, and it serves several functions, the most important of which is the transport of immune system cells. The lymphatic system not only carries white blood cells throughout the body but is also responsible for training these immune cells so that they can properly recognize invaders and successfully fight them.
Unfortunately, the fluid inside the lymphatic system — known as lymph — can become congested. One of the most common reasons for this “clogging” of the lymphatic system is cancer. A classic example is a breast cancer patient who has had lymph nodes removed as part of the surgery. The remaining lymphatic network can become overwhelmed, which causes a backup of lymphatic fluid. The fluid can become so backed up that visible swelling of the arm occurs. This is known as lymphedema.
Lymph nodes do not have to be missing for lymphedema to occur. Sometimes, a tumor can be so large that it disrupts the flow of lymph fluid and causes lymphedema. Infection, inflammation, and anatomical abnormalities can also result in the proper flow of lymphatic fluid being compromised.
One excellent way to get the lymphatic system moving properly again is through Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT), which is a gentle, non-invasive treatment used to stimulate the functions of the lymphatic system.
History of Lymph Drainage Therapy
Frederic Millard, a Canadian physician, is credited with creating the term “lymphatic drainage” in 1922. 
However, lymph drainage therapy as we know it today was first used in the 1930s by Drs. Emil and Estrid Vodder, a husband and wife team in France.  Since that time, Dr. Bruno Chikly, a French physician, has expanded our knowledge of how Lymph Drainage Therapy can improve the function of the lymphatic system. 
According to Dr. Chikly, Lymph Drainage Therapy has several key effects in the body:
- Activated circulation of the lymph, capillaries, veins, interstitial fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, and synovial fluid.
- Removal of toxins
- Drainage of proteins, which is helpful in addressing edema
- Evacuation of fats
- Improved functioning of the nervous system
- Stimulation of the immune system
Enhanced immune system function is perhaps the most important benefit of lymph drainage therapy when it comes to cancer treatment.
A Lymph Drainage Therapy session
Lymph drainage was originally performed by a massage therapist, using only the hands. While this was effective, it was also labor-intensive. A more recent development and one which I highly recommend is to achieve lymph drainage through the use of specialized equipment made specifically for this purpose. In the hands of an experienced technician, it offers superior results.
In my office, my lymph drainage therapist uses a device that utilizes light and sound in order to stimulate the proper flow of lymphatic fluid. With the patient lying comfortably on the exam table, each of the body’s major lymphatic areas is stimulated by the device. More attention can and should be given to those areas where significant lymph blockages are present. Without exception, patients state that the treatment session is very relaxing. I typically have patients do two treatment sessions per week, with each session lasting approximately one hour.
Because Lymph Drainage Therapy is detoxifying the body, it is very important to stay well hydrated. We always encourage our patients to drink extra water on treatment days.
The beauty of Lymph Drainage Therapy is that it stimulates the body in a natural way so that the immune system function is appropriately stimulated. The keyword here is appropriate, because we want to enhance immune function so that it can do its job, but not to the point of over-stimulating it. Many patients believe that the higher the immune system activity, the better. This is not true, as the immune system can be overactive to the point that it is reacting to stimuli that are not harmful. This is arguably just as bad, if not worse, than an underactive immune system. With cancer, achieving this delicate balance is essential.
Lymph drainage therapy is a very valuable treatment for cancer because it addresses the known immune system dysregulation we see in patients with cancer. By properly stimulating the immune system, and also providing detoxification in the process, we can achieve an outstanding complement to other treatments within a protocol. In my office, I have found Lymph Drainage Therapy to be both safe and effective.
1 Millard FP. Applied Anatomy of the Lymphatics. Kirksville: International Lymphatic Research Society, 1922.French, Ramona Moody. The Complete Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage, Clifton Park: Milady, 2011.
2 French, Ramona Moody. The Complete Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage, Clifton Park: Milady, 2011.
3 Chikly, Bruno. Lymph Drainage Therapy and its integration in a massage therapy practice. American Massage Therapy Association, page 20. URL http://www.iahe.com/images/pdf/3319_001.pdf