The Effectiveness of Manual Lymphatic Drainage in Patients With Orthopedic Injuries

J Sport Rehabil. 2016 Feb;25(1):91-7. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2014-0222. Epub 2015 Oct 12.


Clinical scenario: Managing edema after trauma or injury is a primary concern for health care professionals, as it is theorized that delaying the removal of edema will increase secondary injury and result in a longer recovery period. The inflammatory process generates a series of events, starting with bleeding and ultimately leading to fluid accumulation in intercellular spaces and the formation of edema. Once edema is formed, the lymphatic system plays a tremendous role in removing excess interstitial fluid and returning the fluid to the circulatory system. Therefore, rehabilitation specialists ought to use therapies that enhance the uptake of edema via the lymphatic system to manage edema; however, the modalities commonly used are ice, compression, and elevation. Modalities such as these may be effective at preventing swelling but present limited evidence to suggest that the function of the lymphatic system is enhanced. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a manual therapy technique that assists the lymphatic system function by promoting variations in interstitial pressures by applying light pressure using different hand movements.

Focused clinical question: Does MLD improve patient- and disease-oriented outcomes for patients with orthopedic injuries?

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drainage / methods*
  • Edema / etiology
  • Edema / therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic System*
  • Massage* / methods
  • Musculoskeletal System / injuries*
  • Orthopedics / methods