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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ray

What is Reflexology Lymph Drainage?

Reflexology Lymph Drainage is an award winning, evidence based, specialist reflexology technique that may be used to help lymphoedema and, following training, I am delighted to have become an approved Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD) practitioner.

The technique was developed in the UK by reflexologist Sally Kay. Sally had been working as part of a team of complementary therapists at the Hospice of the Valleys, a South Wales charity founded in 1991 by Dr Richard Lamerton, who had a vision for cancer care. The hospice provided cancer care and support and Sally had observed the use of manual lymphatic drainage as a treatment to help with lymphoedema following cancer surgery.

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a gentle specialised type of massage used to reduce swelling caused by fluid build-up after cancer treatment. It aims to encourage lymph fluid away from the swollen area towards healthy lymph vessels so that it can drain normally. MLD is given by a trained lymphatic drainage therapist, but Simple Lymphatic Drainage (SLD) is a technique you can learn in order to help yourself.

The principle of reflexology is that the organs, systems and structures of the body are reflected in the feet and a reflexology treatment involves applying gentle pressure to specific points on the feet, ‘reflexes’, to stimulate the body’s own healing potential.

Sally used the principles of manual lymphatic drainage and simple lymphatic drainage to develop reflexology lymph drainage focusing on the foot reflexes associated with the lymphatic system. Sally’s aim was to cause an effect on the lymphatic drainage and reduce lymphoedema swelling.

RLD can be used as a standalone treatment or adapted for clients with other conditions


Lymphoedema is defined as “persistent tissue swelling due to blockage or absence of the lymph drainage channels with accumulation of interstitial fluid” Mortimer 1998

It is a long-term or chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues. It usually develops in the arms of legs but can affect any part of the body. It is thought to affect more than 200,000 people in the UK

The lymphatic system is a type of circulatory system that involves a network of channels or lymphatic vessels and glands that help fight infection and remove or drain excess fluid from the body tissues.

Lymphoedema develops when the lymphatic system does not work properly and the main symptom is swelling. It can cause jewellery or watches to feel tight, difficulty with fitting into clothes or finding some parts of clothing tight and restrictive.

Other symptoms may include

  • Achy heavy feeling in the affected limb

  • Compromised or difficult movement

  • Hard tight skin or folds developing in the skin

  • Repeated skin infections

  • Leakage of fluid through the skin

Aside from the physical symptoms, lymphoedema can have a huge emotional and psychological impact due to an altered body image and day to day issues like the discomfort of wearing a bra due to it digging in or the difficulty in finding comfortable shoes, the choice of what to wear being affected and being unable to either wear or remove wedding rings and other jewellery or being restricted in the activities you can enjoy.

There are 2 main types of lymphoedema;

  1. Primary Lymphoedema is caused by faulty genes affecting the development of the lymphatic system. It can develop at any age but usually starts during infancy, adolescence or early adulthood. Primary lymphoedema is thought to affect 1 in every 6,000 people

  2. Secondary Lymphoedema is caused by damage to the lymphatic system. It can be as a result of cancer treatment, infection, injury, inflammation of the limb or a lack of limb movement. Secondary lymphoedema affects around 2 in 10 people with breast cancer.

For more information about lymphoedema and for advice and support, contact the Lymphoedema Support Network


Sally Kay undertook clinical research studies that met stringent requirements in order to gain NHS ethical approval of the method and study. The research involved breast cancer related lymphoedema in one arm and involved a limb volume circumferential measurement to measure the volume of fluid in each limb pre and post treatment with reflexology lymph drainage, comparing the affected and non-affected limb.

For details of the research follow the links below

1. Experiences of breast cancer related lymphoedema and the use of reflexology for managing swelling

2. Use of reflexology in managing secondary lymphoedema for patients affected by treatments for breast cancer

3. A study looking at reflexology to manage lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment

4. Using thermal imaging to measure changes in breast cancer related lymphoedema during reflexology


Click on the link below to view a video of Jennifer Morgan talking about her experience of receiving reflexology lymph drainage.


The lymphatic system is important for the optimal functioning of our immune response and forms part of the immune system, producing cells and antibodies to protect us from infection and disease.

It makes sense that if RLD can affect the lymphatic system as demonstrated by the research, it has the potential also to affect the immune system.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage can be used for conditions other than lymphoedema so RLD may be useful in relieving and supporting the symptoms of

  • Arthritis,

  • Asthma

  • Eczema

  • Lipodema

  • Fibromyalgia

  • ME

  • Chronic Fatigue

  • Sinus problems

  • Migraines and headaches

  • Muscular tension

  • Aches ad pains

  • Premenstrual tension

Conditions contra-indicated for the use of reflexology/reflexology lymph drainage include;

  • Deep vein thrombosis

  • Pulmonary embolism

  • Cellulitis

  • Undiagnosed swelling

  • Unstable heart conditions

  • Oedema due to end-of-life organ failure


As with all reflexology treatments a detailed consultation takes place so that I can understand the factors affecting your health and well-being and the nature of any acute or chronic conditions. This is also important to establish if treatment is appropriate at this time, and to understand what your expectations are from the treatment.

Reflexologist do not diagnose or claim to cure. Reflexology aims to support the individual and help the management of conditions.

The treatment takes place in the comfort of my treatment room where I use a lovely reclining chair and pillows and blankets to keep you cosy. If you want to relax and fall asleep that is fine, or I am happy for you to chat and ask questions. The treatment is ‘your’ time and space.

There is no need to remove any clothing other than your socks and shoes and after cleansing your feet with warm towels, I use some gentle massage moves prior to using the RLD protocol either as a standalone treatment or part of traditional reflexology treatment.

Measuring Outcomes

If you are interested in measurable results, I can measure your affected limb/limbs before and after treatment using a limb circumference volume measurement. This can be helpful when considering a course of treatments

Some people like to have before and after pictures taken but this is completely optional.

For many people it is the small things that make the biggest difference e.g. being able to get a pair of shoes on more easily or wear a treasured watch or bracelet or as Jennifer Morgan said in the YouTube video link, being able to knit a shawl for her new grandson.

But I Don’t Like My Feet Being Touched

The RLD protocol has also been developed for hand reflexology so this may be a consideration if you have a phobia of feet.

How Many Treatments?

Initially I would advise a minimum of 4 weekly sessions and following assessment of the results of treatment, this can be reviewed. Some clients will be happy to have monthly maintenance treatments, but it is entirely up to you.

Reflexology lymph drainage treatment is very gentle and soothing and the only way to know if it could help you is to try it. To find out more contact me.


Lymphoedema Awareness Week is 6th to 11th March 2022 with World Lymphoedema Day on 6th March

Movement is one of the best ways of keeping the lymphatic system healthy so with a focus on getting active, check out the ‘EveryBodyCan’ campaign run by the British Lymphology Society

Follow them on Facebook for regular updates, ideas and inspiration #LymphoedemaAwareness


Book : Reflexology Lymph Drainage Sally Kay

Lymphoedema Support Network 020 7351 4480

The British Lymphology Society Facebook @BritishLymph

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