Reflexology lymph drainage

Isla Blasa helps us understand the complementary therapy reflexology lymph drainage that helps ease lymphoedema.

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Reflexology lymph drainage (RLD) is a reflexology technique specifically designed to cause an effect on the drainage action of the lymphatic system. Researched and developed through extensive clinical practice, this unique reflexology sequence offers another therapeutic option for lymphoedema management.

What is reflexology?

Reflexology is a gentle, non-invasive touch therapy in which specific points on the feet or hands are stimulated, encouraging the restoration of health and well-being on both a physical and emotional level.

These points are termed reflexes and they mirror or reflect the various organs and structures of the body. As a complementary therapy, reflexology can be used as a support tool both during and post-cancer treatment to help cope with stress, tension and anxiety, while assisting with nausea, pain relief, constipation and sleeplessness.

What is lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a chronic condition which causes tissue swelling when interstitial fluid accumulates due to blocked, damaged or absent lymph drainage channels.

Breast cancer-related lymphoedema may occur as a result of surgery and the removal of lymph nodes, damage to lymph vessels, scarring or radiotherapy tissue damage to the axillary lymph nodes of the armpit.

Lymphoedema could occur immediately after breast cancer treatment or a few months later, while for other breast cancer patients it may never develop. When lymphoedema swelling develops in the arm, similar swelling is often present in adjacent areas of the body, such as the shoulder area, breast, site of the scar tissue and around the upper back.

There is currently no cure for lymphoedema, but there are recommended guidelines for those at risk of developing it and to help control symptoms and manage the swelling in those where lymphoedema is present.

Skin care, exercise, compression, manual lymph drainage (MLD) – and simple lymph drainage (SLD) exercises form the basis to preventing and treating lymphoedema.

So, what is reflexology lymph drainage?

Following the same principles of MLD and SLD, reflexology lymph drainage aims to reduce swelling by diverting fluid away from the site of missing and/or damaged lymph nodes, to the nearest area in the body where the lymph nodes are fully functional.

Applying the reflexology principle of mirroring, the RLD sequence is carried out on the corresponding lymphatic reflexes of the feet or hands. Unlike traditional reflexology, where the focus is on working the body and its systems by working the entire foot, RLD is a prescriptive sequence, focused solely on the reflexes that are specific to the lymphatic system.

What to expect

During the first consultation, a detailed medical history will be taken to ensure there are no medical conditions that are contra-indicated for RLD. At all subsequent sessions, contra-indications, such as cellulitis and undiagnosed swelling, will be checked for prior to any RLD treatment taking place.

As with traditional reflexology, RLD is more commonly performed on the feet. Comfortably seated on a therapy bed, you will remain fully clothed, with only your shoes and socks removed. What follows is a very gentle sequence of light finger and thumb pressure movements on the feet or hands, with the aim of invoking the natural lymph drainage function of the body.

A modified RLD sequence is used for those with bilateral lymphoedema. As an added bonus, RLD stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, the network of nerves that relaxes the body, so vital for health and healing.

Measuring the circumference of the arm, using a simple tape measure and a little mathematics, before and after each session is a powerful tool for tracking the effectiveness of RLD. Another useful tool is an easy three-step RLD sequence that you can perform on your own hands, to help manage lymphoedema while at home.

As a fluid, gentle reflexology technique, RLD can help bring relief from the pain, tightness and discomfort of the swollen area, increase mobility and range of motion and overall quality of life.

Isla Blasa is a registered therapeutic reflexologist and an approved reflexology lymph drainage practitioner, based in Midrand, Gauteng. She has a special interest in helping manage chronic conditions.


Isla Blasa is a registered therapeutic reflexologist and an approved reflexology lymph drainage practitioner, based in Midrand, Gauteng. She has a special interest in helping manage chronic conditions. 

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