About Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD)
What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system circulates a fluid similar to plasma (lymph) around the body. It works in tandem with blood circulation by removing excess interstitial fluid and waste products from bodily tissues. Lymph is carried along capillaries and vessels to lymph nodes which act as filters, using white blood cells (including lymphocytes) to detect and destroy any viruses or bacteria. After passing through these nodes, the filtered lymph returns to the blood via the thoracic and right lymphatic ducts into the subclavian veins.
The lymphatic system has no central pump, and therefore relies on movement of the body, breathing and gravity to transport it along the system.
During illness, lymph nodes (aka “glands”) can become swollen and tender as they attempt to fight off germs.
Inflammatory conditions can cause a build-up of interstitial fluid and infection in affected areas, as the lymphatic system struggles to drain the lymph away.
What is lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema can also be caused by the removal of lymph nodes, eg in breast cancer surgery. Lymph must pass through lymph nodes before being able to return to the blood. If there are no nodes for it to pass through along its typical pathway, swelling or lymphoedema can occur.
What is reflexology lymph drainage?
Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a method used by specially trained massage therapists to gently redirect the build-up of lymph around the body to a lymph node. The RLD routine, devised by Sally Kay, is based on MLD principles. By gentle massage and manipulation of reflexes on the feet or hands, the entire lymphatic system is worked to encourage lymph drainage.
What are the benefits of RLD for me?
You are very likely to find this gentle and rhythmic routine will induce a deep sense of relaxation and calm, and improve your sleep.
A relaxed body enables vessels to move lymph along more freely, which could have a positive effect on its drainage. If lymph drainage is improved, this could reduce swelling (and in turn, inflammation).
Is there any evidence that it works?
Sally Kay and colleagues have carried out scientific research on the efficacy of reflexology lymph drainage in clients with lymphoedema with positive results. By measuring limbic volume immediately before and after an RLD treatment, the results show that RLD resulted in a reduction in limbic volume, thus increasing the lymph drainage to the areas measured.
More recently, Sally conducted a study on RLD using thermal imaging on affected limbs before, during and after a treatment. Areas with lymphoedema are often warmer to touch than the rest of the body due to inflammation, as proven by the thermal imaging camera before an RLD treatment. Over the course of the treatment, the camera captured a reduction of this heat as lymph drainage improved.
For further information on Reflexology Lymph Drainage, including research studies and the RLD Therapist Register, visit