The gentle touch


The painful condition lymphoedema can be a side-effect of breast cancer treatment. Nicci Martel heard from Sarah Kelly how a special form of massage can help sufferers

SUCCESSFULLY battling breast cancer gave Sarah Kelly the determination to try something new. Four years after recovering from the disease, she is trained in manual lymph drainage and aims to build on her qualification to help those suffering from lymphoedema, a common side-effect of the cancer.

‘I wanted to do something for myself – you tend to forget who you are a bit and lose your identity after you have a family,’ she explained.

‘I love being a homemaker, wife and mother, but after the cancer I wanted to do something different. I’d always been interested in biology, health and wellbeing, so I decided to do a body massage course at the College of Further Education.’

It was Sarah’s pilates teacher who first suggested the idea of training in manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) and Sarah decided to look into it.
She found a course in Devon and enrolled. It required a week of intensive training, then three months of practice, culminating in exams.

‘There were people of all backgrounds on the course – physiotherapists, nurses.

It was daunting but in some ways I had an advantage because I was a blank canvas. I’d never done anything like this before.’

Sarah trained in the first stage of Vodder therapy. MLD was pioneered by Dr Emil Vodder in the 1930s for the treatment of chronic sinusitis and other immune disorders.

It is a type of gentle massage that uses a range of specialised and gentle rhythmic pumping techniques to move the skin in the direction of the lymph flow. This stimulates the lymphatic vessels, which carry substances vital to the body’s immune system and removes waste products.

‘It’s different to a normal massage. I work on the skin, there’s no deep tissue massage. It involves light stretching movements of the lymphangion.’
Lymphangions are units of the lymph vessels and moving them a specific way helps the fluid pass through them more effectively.

‘It increases transit through the lymph system to 100 times its normal rate and it will work like this for the next six hours.’

Sarah performed the therapy on my face, neck and shoulders.
The repetitive movements are very light and small, almost like a kneading motion, but they gradually increase in pressure ever so slightly.
‘It is very systematic and very strict, otherwise it just won’t do the job.’
It’s intensely relaxing, every bit as much as a standard massage, and no oils or powders are used, so it is completely safe for those with sensitive skin.
The process lasts for about an hour and the more treatments you have, the better the long-term benefits to the lymphatic system.

In addition to MLD’s ability to reduce stress, it is also thought to improve the immune system and can help reduce swelling after surgery.

It can also be used in the treatment of both secondary and primary lymphoedema, a condition in which localised fluid retention, caused by a compromised lymphatic system, increases the risk of a person developing an infection in the affected limb.

The condition is most frequently seen after lymph node dissection, surgery or radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer, most notably breast cancer.
In many cancer patients the condition does not develop until months, or even years, after therapy has concluded.

Sarah plans to take her studies to the next level and qualify in Vodder therapies two and three, which will give her the skills and knowledge to treat patients with the condition.

It’s just a question of finding the time, as the busy mum of two works around her family commitments. But one thing is for certain: she’ll be needing a massage herself next weekend, as she plans to take part in the Pink Ladies’ Sunset Walk.

‘I’m walking with my daughter Holli, 11, Jacqui Le Breton, my best friend, and my mum, Moira, who also had breast cancer. Just as I finished my radiotherapy, she started her treatment. She’s another success story – there’s plenty of us out there. It’s not all doom and gloom,’ she explained.

‘The Pink Ladies are a fantastic support for ladies out there with any questions or who are in need of a friend. They can help by talking about their experiences. It’s about looking forward to the future with a positive outlook. So, grab those trainers and let’s go girls.’

To check availability of treatments, contact Sarah at or call her on 07781 128925.

What is the lymphatic system?

It is critical to our body’s ability to operate at peak performance by draining fluids, detoxifying and regenerating tissue, filtering out toxins and foreign substances and helping maintain a healthy immune system. If lymph circulation stagnates, toxins accumulate and compromise cellular functioning, which can cause various ailments.

What is manual lymph drainage?

A therapy designed to improve the functioning of the lymphatic system through gentle, rhythmic movements of the skin, which stimulate the contraction of the lymphatic vessels.
This causes a greater quantity of metabolic waste products and excess fluid to be removed from the body’s tissue.

What are the benefits?

Clears the skin
Can help alleviate fluid retention, swollen legs and puffy eyes
Is relaxing
Can help reduce swelling after surgery
Can help chronic conditions such as sinusitis, arthritis, eczema and leg ulcers
Is believed to improve the immune system.

Sarah Kelly trained in lympathic massage after successfully fighting breast cancer.    (0786135)

GEP Article 12th June 2009

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