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Manual Lymphatic Drainage for Breast Cancer Related Lymphoedema

What is lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema presents as swelling in extremities of the body caused by the disrupted fluid flow in the lymphatic system. In women (and men) who have had breast cancer, removal of breast tissue and/or impacted lymph nodes and vessels can cause lymphoedema of the same arm. This can cause pain, discomfort, loss of movement and even lead to fibrosis and infection if lymphoedema is poorly managed. 25-33% of all people who have experienced breast cancer will develop some form of lymphoedema.

How is lymphoedema treated?

There is growing evidence to show that breast-cancer related lymphoedema can be successfully managed using a combination of:

  • Compression bandages, sleeves or devices
  • Manual lymphatic drainage massage
  • Exercise

What is manual lymphatic drainage massage?

Manual lymphatic drainage is a specialised massage technique involving gentle, rhythmic movements designed to help move retained fluid in affected extremities towards healthier lymph nodes and vessels in the body. It promotes healthy circulation of fluid in the body, prevents waste build up and has the potential to improve the immune system. An extensive research review demonstrated a combination of compression bandaging and manual lymphatic drainage massage reduced swelling in women with breast-cancer related lymphoedema by 37-44%. Manual lymphatic drainage massage also has a position impact

Know someone who could benefit from manual lymphatic drainage massage? Speak to one of our physiotherapists at Optimum Health today for a comprehensive assessment!


Ezzo, J., Manheimer, E., Mcneely, M. L., Howell, D. M., Weiss, R., Johansson, K. I., … Karadibak, D. (2015). Manual lymphatic drainage for lymphedema following breast cancer treatment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi: 10.1002/14651858.cd003475.pub2

Müller, M., Klingberg, K., Wertli, M. M., & Carreira, H. (2018). Manual lymphatic drainage and quality of life in patients with lymphoedema and mixed oedema: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Quality of Life Research, 27(6), 1403–1414. doi: 10.1007/s11136-018-1796-5

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