Reflexology and Lymphoedema

What is Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is defined as a long term condition that causes swelling of the body’s tissues.  It is a condition where the lymphatic system fails to drain lymph effectively.

The lymphatic system is a secondary circulatory system that is vital for keeping the body healthy. Lymph is a protein-rich fluid that circulates throughout your body, it effectively mops up what isn’t needed (or wanted!) – collecting bacteria, viruses, waste products and damaged or abnormal cells including cancer, this is why when cancer is diagnosed doctors will check the lymph nodes.

The lymphatic system is the network of vessels through which lymph drains from the tissues into the blood.

Unlike the circulatory system where the heart beats to circulate blood around the body, the lymphatic system depends on muscle movement and above the heart by gravity to move through the body.  It is a one way system with valves to stop the lymph flowing backwards.

Waste from our body is then filtered out by lymphocytes — infection-fighting cells that live in your lymph nodes — and ultimately flushed from your body.

Lymphoedema occurs when your lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid, usually from an arm or leg.

Lymphoedema is classified as either primary or secondary.

Primary lymphoedema – a genetic condition where the lymphatic system has not developed properly resulting in fluid retention.  Lymphedema can occur at any age but usually starts during infancy, adolescence or early adulthood.

Secondary lymphoedema caused by damage to the lymphatic system or problems with the movement and drainage of fluid in the lymphatic system; it can be the result of an infection, injury, cancer treatment, inflammation of the limb, or a lack of limb movement.

Medical intervention for lymphoedema is limited and involves wearing compression garments, regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.  Further information about symptoms, diagnosis and treatments can be found on the NHS Choices website and of course the Mayo Clinic is also a great resource for evidence based medical information.

Reflexology Lymphatic Drainage or RLD is a sequence of reflexology movements that are designed to stimulate the whole lymphatic system and to encourage it to move lymph.


These techniques were originally devised by Sally Kay while working with patients living with lymphoedema after cancer treatment.   Other than measuring we do not work directly on the affected area. Sally was working for a local charity when some of the patients with lymphedema asked her if reflexology could help them.  Sally is the kind of person who will find a solution so started treating them, specifically the reflexes that she knew related to the lymphatic system.  Before long her patients were reporting that they thought that their lymphedema had improved, their watches fitted better, they could wear their rings again.

This lead to Sally setting up a clinical study in association with Cardiff University.  All the patients were measured before and after a treatment, patients had weekly RLD sessions at the same time and on the same day every week.  The results were quite convincing and they certainly convinced me!

A significant reduction in the volume of the affected arm was identified at follow-up compared to baseline. This reduction in volume appeared to be maintained for more than six months. Participant concerns were significantly reduced and their wellbeing significantly increased. No serious adverse effects were reported.

As soon as I read about Sally’s research and knowing how few options there are for lymphoedema patients I decided to train with Sally, I was not disappointed and I have found it to be a wonderful treatment, not only because it offers something for lymphoedema patients but because it is a wonderful treatment in itself, everyone has a lymph system and we can all benefit from improved lymph flow.  The feedback on RLD from my clients has so far been very positive.

Because RLD works by stimulating the lymph system it is a wonderful treatment for everyone but especially those living with chronic condition for example fibermaiyalgia or chronic inflammation or anyone recovering from or recovering an illness. RLD is a gentle treatment and can be tailored for those having chemotherapy as well as those recovering from radiation and chemotherapy.

Recommended treatment

  • Recommended treatment is for 6 weekly treatments, we can measure before and after if you wish.  If you think you might benefit from RLD, contact me to discuss.
  • Patients under the care of the Hospice in the Weald can enquire with Hospice Day Service about signing up for a 6 week treatment with me there (Thursdays only).

Other Resources

Reflexology is more than a foot massage. Massage involves manipulation of soft tissue and muscle, reflexology stimulates the nerve pathways.

Book a Session with Me

I work from the very lovely treatment rooms at Flow Tunbridge Wells on Woodbury Park Road and at Groombridge Osteopathy practice (right between the village post office and the bakery).

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