The following is a summary of a recent article in The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy answering the question "Does manual lymphatic drainage actually do what its meant to do?"
Systematic Review of Efficacy for Manual Lymphatic Drainage Techniques in Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation: An Evidence-Based Practice Approach (Vairo et al: 2009)
Dating back to at least the days of Andrew Still, the founder of Osteopathy, Manual Lymphatic Drainage Techniques (MLDTs) have been utilized in manual therapy settings in an attempt to theoretically:
Unfortunately however, as with many manual therapy techniques, the efficacy of MLDTs in the sport medicine realm lacks solid scientific evidence and therefore, must simply be appreciated for its empirical evidence.
Specifically speaking, Vairo et al, recently published their systematic review that can be outlined as follows:
"a light massage therapy technique that involves moving the skin in particular directions based on the structure of the lymphatic system. This helps encourage drainage of the fluid and waste through the appropriate channels."
RESULTS & DISCUSSION
Several modes of MLDTs have been described including the Vodder method, as well as lymphatic pump techniques. From this published review, it was revealed that solid scientific evidence to support MLDTs in sport medicine is lacking and therefore, its use can be attributed primarily to anecdotal evidence. However, to date, the strongest evidence in support of MLDTs, based on this review, lies merely in 3 RCTs; suggesting it potential efficacy in regulating serum levels of enzyme associated with acute muscle damage, as well as reducing edema induced by distal radius fracture and acute ankle sprain. As such, caution must be taken when making definitive recommendations for clinical practice guidelines in the management of sports injuries with manual lymphatic drainage. Yet from a scientific standpoint, a call for consistency of MLDT protocols in intervention research is necessary in order to effectively make comparisons across studies so that the efficacy, optimal treatment durations, and an ideal rate and frequency of MLDTs for sport injuries can be determined.