Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

Story at a glance

Lymphatic Drainage Therapy resolves congestion and swelling by guiding lymphatic fluids around blockages which can be caused by removed lymph nodes or damaged tissue. This therapy combines both Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Electro Lymphatic Therapy to maximize lymph flow throughout the lymphatic system. Flow is required for health while stagnation blocks flow resulting in waste accumulation, infection, increased acidity, and decreased availability of oxygen all contributing to tumor growth.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) uses gentle touch to the skin encouraging lymph movement through the dermal lymphatic vessels. This enhances the removal of metabolic wastes and toxic material delivering them to the bloodstream and finally to the kidneys where they can be eliminated in urine. Furthermore, it enhances continued flow of immune cells allowing them to continue their job of neutralizing and destroying toxins, microorganisms, and chronically fermenting cells (CFCs or cancer).

Electro Lymphatic Therapy (ELT) is used to reach deeper lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels. When the lymphatic system is congested, proteins in the lymph clump together leading to fluid and toxin retention and swelling. ELT assists in dissolving clumped proteins and restoring optimal lymph flow. The lymphatic fluid is carried through a complex network of lymphatic vessels to lymph nodes where toxins, metabolic waste products, fat, microorganisms, CFCs (cancer cells) and excess liquid are filtered and purified. Furthermore, CFCs and microorganisms are identified within the lymph nodes and an appropriate immune response is initiated resulting in their destruction and elimination. In a congested lymphatic system, the lymph fluid is thick, sticky, burdened with toxins, microorganisms, parasites, and CFCs that cannot be properly eliminated.

The body contains three times more lymph fluid than blood, hence when congested, not only does the lymph stop flowing but not enough fluid is returned to the circulatory system resulting in total body dehydration.

The ELT practitioner uses glass wands and glides them along the skin following lymphatic routes. The wands emit a mild electrical current which excites gases of argon, krypton, and xenon within the wands. This current helps break down trapped proteins in the lymph allowing it to flow freely through vessels. This treatment not only relieves lymphedema, restoring flow and immunity, but also helps in relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and supports the body to handle other treatments speeding up the healing process.

Why does the lymphatic flow need support?

The lymphatic system can become congested for several reasons beyond structural damage or lymph node removal. Understanding the lymphatic system’s structure and function is crucial to appreciate the necessity of lymphatic drainage therapy. Collaborating with the circulatory system, the lymphatic system regulates body fluid balance, supports the immune system, and facilitates the return of lymph to the bloodstream after being filtered, cleansed and evaluated to determine if an immune response is warranted.

The blood circulatory system, powered by the heart transports oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body’s tissues through arteries and finally the smallest vessels in the body, called capillaries. Within these capillaries a vital exchange between blood and the cells occurs: oxygen and nutrients are released through the capillary wall into the interstitial fluid surrounding the cells while carbon dioxide, and other waste material released by cells into the interstitial fluid are absorbed by the capillaries, as well as tiny, afferent lymphatic vessels where it is transported to the regional lymph node processed and then the efferent lymph vessels carry the lymph to two main ducts in the upper chest where the lymph is returned to the blood circulatory system.

If all the arteries, capillaries and veins of an adult were connected end-to-end, they would stretch about 100,000 kilometers (60,000 miles) circling the Earth more than twice and 80% would consist of capillaries. At rest, the heart pumps 5 liters of blood each minute or 7600 liters (2000 gallons) per day. During physical activity, circulation intensifies to meet the body’s increased metabolic demands.

The interstitial fluid originates when plasma, the liquid portion of blood is filtered through capillary walls. Each day about 20 liters of plasma leaves the capillaries with 17 liters being reabsorbed into veins and returned to the heart via the vascular system. The remaining three liters are returned to blood via the lymphatic system ensuring fluid balance, and allowing the immune system to evaluate all tissue beds in order to determine if an immune response is required.

The lymphatic system serves the vital function of returning a significant amount of fluid from tissues back to the bloodstream. Unlike the circular, closed system of blood circulation powered by the heart, the lymphatic system is an open system. It begins with dead-ended lymphatic capillaries in the interstitial fluid surrounding cells which carry lymphatic fluid first to regional lymph nodes and then transports and empties it into the bloodstream at the subclavian veins in the upper chest. Unlike blood vessels, lymphatic vessels have lower pressure, and their flow relies on the contraction of smooth muscles in their walls aided by nearby muscle contractions. During exercise, lymph flow rates increase three to six times compared to resting rates. The only opposing force to this flow is the oncotic pressure within lymphatic vessels caused by the presence of proteins and minerals in the lymph.

Therefore, lymphatic flow is highly sensitive to a number of factors such as dehydration, toxins, dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle, stress and infections which can alter both the consistency of the lymph fluid and the pumping activity of the lymphatic vessels. Chronic inflammatory conditions, including CFCs can significantly disrupt lymphatic flow making external support for lymphatic drainage necessary.

An optimally functioning lymphatic system is vital for cellular health

The lymphatic system is responsible for maintaining a healthy cellular environment. It drains lymph fluid from tissues removing metabolic waste, environmental toxins, dead cells, CFCs and pathogens. Additionally, lymphatic vessels absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive tract and transfer them to the bloodstream. Without efficient lymphatic flow, tissues can become deprived of nutrients and accumulate excess fluid and waste. This sets up suitable conditions for chronic inflammation and infections which can eventually lead to several health issues including CFCs. Defects in the lymphatic system have also been linked to cardiovascular, autoimmune, and neurodegenerative conditions highlighting its importance in overall health.

Restricted lymph drainage promotes the growth of CFCs

In conventional medicine, the lymphatic system is primarily seen as a route for CFCs to metastasize, leading to preference for removing lymph nodes when CFCs are present to prevent further spread. However, promoting lymphatic flow is unquestionably beneficial and necessary for the healing process. In fact, insufficient lymphatic drainage in tumors plays a key role in the formation of the tumor microenvironment, which is the main promoter of tumor growth. The formation of a distinct tumor microenvironment starts when the metabolic demands of rapidly growing CFCs eventually exceed their blood supply depriving themselves of oxygen and nutrients. To restore normal conditions within the tumor, CFCs grow a dense vascular network. However, the resultant blood vessels are chaotic, dysfunctional, and permeable, failing to effectively deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tumor. Instead, these vessels leak fluid into the surrounding tissue, which, when combined with poor lymphatic drainage increases fluid pressure within the tumor. Elevated pressure creates a barrier that impedes the delivery of therapeutic agents to the tumor site. Moreover, the tumor microenvironment fills up with metabolic waste and proinflammatory cytokines which trigger CFCs to grow, metastasize, and acquire resistance to treatments. Understanding these dynamics shows the importance of therapeutic strategies that target both CFCs and their supportive tumor microenvironment, enhanced by maintaining healthy lymphatic flow.

The immune system relies on the lymph flow

Optimizing the lymph flow is also essential for the proper function of the immune system. The lymphatic system serves as both the transportation and “intelligence” headquarters of the immune system essential for defending the body against pathogens and CFCs.

The lymphatic system includes several organs of the immune system: bone marrow, thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, and gut-associated lymphoid tissue.

The bone marrow is the primary site where new blood cells are produced, a process known as haematopoiesis in adults.

The thymus gland located in the chest is where T-cells that were produced in the bone marrow achieve complete maturation. T-cells serve as major players in the adaptive immune system required to protect from foreign organisms and abnormal cells, such as CFCs (cancer cells). However, beginning the second year of life, the thymus gland begins to decrease in size and activity, along with T cell production in a process called thymic involution.

Lymph nodes are small glands distributed throughout the body that store immune cells and monitor and clean lymphatic fluid that has just come from the tissues.  Many are situated superficially in and beneath the skin, such as in the armpits, groin, and neck while others are located deeper inside the body close to organs such as between the lungs (mediastinum) and around the gut. They are the first stop where damaged cells, microorganisms, toxins, and CFCs are eliminated. Furthermore, they function like small “police stations” where substances are determined to be “friend or foe” and if it is determined that a “foe” is present, an immune response is established.

The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ located in the abdomen responsible for filtering blood, removing old and dysfunctional cells, and storing red blood cells and platelets.

Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) is found in mucous membranes lining various body parts including eyes, inside the nose, inside the mouth, lips, airways, the genital areas, and the urethral opening. Mucous membranes serve as the primary barrier between the external world and the interior of the body. In addition to forming a physical barrier, they also contain certain cells of the immune system and are the interface between the body and the microbiome. Another essential function is to keep the tissues that line the nose, mouth, respiratory tract, and genitals moist. Finally, these tissues participate in absorbing and transforming nutrients in the gut and even serve as protection from certain bodily functions, such as protecting the stomach from the potentially harmful effects of its extremely acidic environment.

Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), an immunological component of the MALT that protects the blood from invasion of microorganisms, parasites, toxins, and even nutrients that have not been broken down suitably for proper and healthy absorption. A large population of plasma cells, derived from activated B cells in order to produce antibodies, serve as the functional immunological protection of the GALT. There are more plasma cells in the GALT than are in the spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow combined. And, by weight the GALT constitutes approximately 70% of the entire immune system hence, if compromised, could affect the overall performance of the immune system. Peyer’s patches of the small intestine, isolated lymphoid follicles throughout the whole of the intestine, the appendix and mesenteric lymph nodes all are constituents of the GALT. In addition to B cells and plasma cells, dendritic cells (DC), macrophages, naive T cells, as well as those that have been activated into effector T cells complete the immunological presence in the gut.

The effectiveness of the immune system significantly influences a body’s healing capacity. Immune cells utilize the lymph flow to traverse the body, patrolling tissues for potential threats. Among these cells are natural killer cells, which can directly identify and destroy CFCs when encountering them. T lymphocytes, on the other hand, require specific molecular markers (antigens) to recognize CFCs, and hence rely on the assistance of antigen-presenting cells, such as macrophages and dendritic cells. These cells gather antigens from CFCs and carry them to T lymphocytes residing in lymph nodes. In response, T lymphocytes multiply and migrate toward the tumor site. Antigen recognition establishes a memory within immune cells, enabling rapid action if they encounter the same antigen again. This memory is crucial for sustained and precise attack on tumors. For the immune system to successfully eliminate CFCs all its compartments and cell types need to be involved. Studies highlight the critical role of dendritic cells, natural killer cells and T lymphocytes in tumor elimination and overall survival with their efficacy determined by lymphatic drainage. Impaired lymph flow severely prevents the immune system from effectively reaching and attacking the tumor. Moreover, the biochemical conditions in the tumor microenvironment are immune suppressive which means that the infiltrating immune cells attempting to attack the tumor are inactivated or transformed to tumor supporting cells. Metastasized CFCs transfer the tumor microenvironment to lymph nodes, further spreading immune suppression to the lymphatic system. Instead of removing affected lymph nodes, supporting lymph flow is essential for reversing immune suppression and improving overall survival.

Therefore, in addition to treating lymphedema, Lymphatic Drainage Therapy, which includes both manual and ELT, is a crucial aspect of managing CFCs. By reducing swelling and fluid pressure inside the tumor, it creates a more favorable environment for other therapies. Increased lymph flow not only dilutes the tumor microenvironment by supplying it with oxygen and clearing out waste and growth-promoting signals but also allows the immune system better access to the tumor, facilitating its elimination. Thus, restoring lymph flow is vital for reversing the progression of CFCs.

Read more Collapse


Al-Shibli K, Al-Saad S, Donnem T, Persson M, Bremnes RM, Busund LT. The prognostic value of intraepithelial and stromal innate immune system cells in non-small cell lung carcinoma. Histopathology. 2009 Sep;55(3):301-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2559.2009.03379.x. PMID: 19723145.

Amiya E, Watanabe M, Komuro I. The Relationship between Vascular Function and the Autonomic Nervous System. Ann Vasc Dis. 2014;7(2):109-19. doi: 10.3400/avd.ra.14-00048. Epub 2014 May 16. PMID: 24995054; PMCID: PMC4072858.

Baranwal G, Rutkowski JM. Reduced lymphatic function contributes to age-related disease. Aging (Albany NY). 2019 Nov 27;11(22):9969-9970. doi: 10.18632/aging.102503. Epub 2019 Nov 27. PMID: 31785147; PMCID: PMC6914422.

Chakraborty S, Zawieja S, Wang W, Zawieja DC, Muthuchamy M. Lymphatic system: a vital link between metabolic syndrome and inflammation. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Oct;1207 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):E94-102. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05752.x. PMID: 20961312; PMCID: PMC2965625.

Christiansen AJ, Dieterich LC, Ohs I, Bachmann SB, Bianchi R, Proulx ST, Hollmén M, Aebischer D, Detmar M. Lymphatic endothelial cells attenuate inflammation via suppression of dendritic cell maturation. Oncotarget. 2016 Jun 28;7(26):39421-39435. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.9820. PMID: 27270646; PMCID: PMC5129942.

Da Mesquita S, Louveau A, Vaccari A, Smirnov I, Cornelison RC, Kingsmore KM, Contarino C, Onengut-Gumuscu S, Farber E, Raper D, Viar KE, Powell RD, Baker W, Dabhi N, Bai R, Cao R, Hu S, Rich SS, Munson JM, Lopes MB, Overall CC, Acton ST, Kipnis J. Functional aspects of meningeal lymphatics in ageing and Alzheimer’s disease. Nature. 2018 Aug;560(7717):185-191. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0368-8. Epub 2018 Jul 25. Erratum in: Nature. 2018 Nov 5;: PMID: 30046111; PMCID: PMC6085146.

Fankhauser M, Broggi MAS, Potin L, Bordry N, Jeanbart L, Lund AW, Da Costa E, Hauert S, Rincon-Restrepo M, Tremblay C, Cabello E, Homicsko K, Michielin O, Hanahan D, Speiser DE, Swartz MA. Tumor lymphangiogenesis promotes T cell infiltration and potentiates immunotherapy in melanoma. Sci Transl Med. 2017 Sep 13;9(407):eaal4712. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aal4712. PMID: 28904226.

 Firmino NS, Cederberg RA, Lee CM, Shi R, Wadsworth BJ, Franks SE, Thomas KN, Decotret LR, Bennewith KL. Germinal center hypoxia in tumor-draining lymph nodes negatively regulates tumor-induced humoral immune responses in mouse models of breast cancer. Oncoimmunology. 2021 Aug 4;10(1):1959978. doi: 10.1080/2162402X.2021.1959978. PMID: 34377597; PMCID: PMC8344742.

Gooden MJ, de Bock GH, Leffers N, Daemen T, Nijman HW. The prognostic influence of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes in cancer: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2011 Jun 28;105(1):93-103. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.189. Epub 2011 May 31. PMID: 21629244; PMCID: PMC3137407.

Hiraoka N, Ino Y, Yamazaki-Itoh R, Kanai Y, Kosuge T, Shimada K. Intratumoral tertiary lymphoid organ is a favourable prognosticator in patients with pancreatic cancer. Br J Cancer. 2015 May 26;112(11):1782-90. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2015.145. Epub 2015 May 5. PMID: 25942397; PMCID: PMC4647237.

Hofmann M, Pflanzer R, Zoller NN, Bernd A, Kaufmann R, Thaci D, Bereiter-Hahn J, Hirohata S, Kippenberger S. Vascular endothelial growth factor C-induced lymphangiogenesis decreases tumor interstitial fluid pressure and tumor. Transl Oncol. 2013 Aug 1;6(4):398-404. doi: 10.1593/tlo.13274. PMID: 23908682; PMCID: PMC3730014.

Howarth D, Burstal R, Hayes C, Lan L, Lantry G. Autonomic regulation of lymphatic flow in the lower extremity demonstrated on lymphoscintigraphy in patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Clin Nucl Med. 1999 Jun;24(6):383-7. doi: 10.1097/00003072-199906000-00001. PMID: 10361930

Ji RC. Hypoxia and lymphangiogenesis in tumor microenvironment and metastasis. Cancer Lett. 2014 Apr 28;346(1):6-16. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2013.12.001. Epub 2013 Dec 11. PMID: 24333723.

Kataru RP, Ly CL, Shin J, Park HJ, Baik JE, Rehal S, Ortega S, Lyden D, Mehrara BJ. Tumor Lymphatic Function Regulates Tumor Inflammatory and Immunosuppressive Microenvironments. Cancer Immunol Res. 2019 Aug;7(8):1345-1358. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-18-0337. Epub 2019 Jun 11. PMID: 31186247; PMCID: PMC6677612.

Kimura T, Sugaya M, Oka T, Blauvelt A, Okochi H, Sato S. Lymphatic dysfunction attenuates tumor immunity through impaired antigen presentation. Oncotarget. 2015 Jul 20;6(20):18081-93. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.4018. PMID: 26098776; PMCID: PMC4627236.

Kwon S, Moreno-Gonzalez I, Taylor-Presse K, Edwards Iii G, Gamez N, Calderon O, Zhu B, Velasquez FC, Soto C, Sevick-Muraca EM. Impaired Peripheral Lymphatic Function and Cerebrospinal Fluid Outflow in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2019;69(2):585-593. doi: 10.3233/JAD-190013. PMID: 31104026; PMCID: PMC7891904.

Liao S, Cheng G, Conner DA, Huang Y, Kucherlapati RS, Munn LL, Ruddle NH, Jain RK, Fukumura D, Padera TP. Impaired lymphatic contraction associated with immunosuppression. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Nov 15;108(46):18784-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116152108. Epub 2011 Nov 7. Erratum in: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Oct 4;113(40):E5992. PMID: 22065738; PMCID: PMC3219138.

Mlecnik B, Bindea G, Angell HK, Maby P, Angelova M, Tougeron D, Church SE, Lafontaine L, Fischer M, Fredriksen T, Sasso M, Bilocq AM, Kirilovsky A, Obenauf AC, Hamieh M, Berger A, Bruneval P, Tuech JJ, Sabourin JC, Le Pessot F, Mauillon J, Rafii A, Laurent-Puig P, Speicher MR, Trajanoski Z, Michel P, Sesboüe R, Frebourg T, Pagès F, Valge-Archer V, Latouche JB, Galon J. Integrative Analyses of Colorectal Cancer Show Immunoscore Is a Stronger Predictor of Patient Survival Than Microsatellite Instability. Immunity. 2016 Mar 15;44(3):698-711. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2016.02.025. PMID: 26982367.

Oliver G, Kipnis J, Randolph GJ, Harvey NL. The Lymphatic Vasculature in the 21st Century: Novel Functional Roles in Homeostasis and Disease. Cell. 2020 Jul 23;182(2):270-296. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.06.039. PMID: 32707093; PMCID: PMC7392116.

Peske JD, Thompson ED, Gemta L, Baylis RA, Fu YX, Engelhard VH. Effector lymphocyte-induced lymph node-like vasculature enables naive T-cell entry into tumours and enhanced anti-tumour immunity. Nat Commun. 2015 May 13;6:7114. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8114. PMID: 25968334; PMCID: PMC4435831.

Pittet MJ, Di Pilato M, Garris C, Mempel TR. Dendritic cells as shepherds of T cell immunity in cancer. Immunity. 2023 Oct 10;56(10):2218-2230. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2023.08.014. Epub 2023 Sep 13. PMID: 37708889; PMCID: PMC10591862.

Randolph GJ, Ivanov S, Zinselmeyer BH, Scallan JP. The Lymphatic System: Integral Roles in Immunity. Annu Rev Immunol. 2017 Apr 26;35:31-52. doi: 10.1146/annurev-immunol-041015-055354. Epub 2016 Nov 14. PMID: 27860528; PMCID: PMC5551392.

Ruocco V, Schwartz RA, Ruocco E. Lymphedema: an immunologically vulnerable site for development of neoplasms. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2002 Jul;47(1):124-7. doi: 10.1067/mjd.2002.120909. PMID: 12077591.

Schoppmann SF, Fenzl A, Schindl M, Bachleitner-Hofmann T, Nagy K, Gnant M, Horvat R, Jakesz R, Birner P. Hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha correlates with VEGF-C expression and lymphangiogenesis in breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2006 Sep;99(2):135-41. doi: 10.1007/s10549-006-9190-3. Epub 2006 Mar 23. PMID: 16555123.

Sim FH, Taylor WF, Ivins JC, Pritchard DJ, Soule EH. A prospective randomized study of the efficacy of routine elective lymphadenectomy in management of malignant melanoma. Preliminary results. Cancer. 1978 Mar;41(3):948-56. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(197803)41:3<948::aid-cncr2820410324>;2-z. PMID: 638981. 

Song E, Mao T, Dong H, Boisserand LSB, Antila S, Bosenberg M, Alitalo K, Thomas JL, Iwasaki A. VEGF-C-driven lymphatic drainage enables immunosurveillance of brain tumours. Nature. 2020 Jan;577(7792):689-694. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1912-x. Epub 2020 Jan 15. Erratum in: Nature. 2021 Feb;590(7845):E34. PMID: 31942068; PMCID: PMC7100608.

Steinskog ES, Sagstad SJ, Wagner M, Karlsen TV, Yang N, Markhus CE, Yndestad S, Wiig H, Eikesdal HP. Impaired lymphatic function accelerates cancer growth. Oncotarget. 2016 Jul 19;7(29):45789-45802. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.9953. PMID: 27329584; PMCID: PMC5216761.

Sugaya M, Kuwano Y, Suga H, Miyagaki T, Ohmatsu H, Kadono T, Okochi H, Blauvelt A, Tamaki K, Sato S. Lymphatic dysfunction impairs antigen-specific immunization, but augments tissue swelling following contact with allergens. J Invest Dermatol. 2012 Mar;132(3 Pt 1):667-76. doi: 10.1038/jid.2011.349. Epub 2011 Nov 10. PMID: 22071476.

Tabibiazar R, Cheung L, Han J, Swanson J, Beilhack A, An A, Dadras SS, Rockson N, Joshi S, Wagner R, Rockson SG. Inflammatory manifestations of experimental lymphatic insufficiency. PLoS Med. 2006 Jul;3(7):e254. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030254. PMID: 16834456; PMCID: PMC1502157.

Tanaka T, Ishiguro H, Kuwabara Y, Kimura M, Mitsui A, Katada T, Shiozaki M, Naganawa Y, Fujii Y, Takeyama H. Vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C) in esophageal cancer correlates with lymph node metastasis and poor patient prognosis. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Jun 28;29(1):83. doi: 10.1186/1756-9966-29-83. PMID: 20584281; PMCID: PMC2917417.

Van den Eynden GG, Van der Auwera I, Van Laere SJ, Colpaert CG, Turley H, Harris AL, van Dam P, Dirix LY, Vermeulen PB, Van Marck EA. Angiogenesis and hypoxia in lymph node metastases is predicted by the angiogenesis and hypoxia in the primary tumour in patients with breast cancer. Br J Cancer. 2005 Nov 14;93(10):1128-36. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6602828. PMID: 16251878; PMCID: PMC2361504.

Read more Collapse

You May Also Like

Ready To Redefine Your Views On Cancer Treatment?