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The Use of Reflexology Lymph Drainage to Reduce Lymphedema After Kidney Cancer Surgery

Lymphedema, the swelling of tissue due to blockage of lymphatic fluid, is a common complication after cancer surgeries like nephrectomy (kidney removal). The traditional treatment options for lymphedema such as compression garments, massage, and pneumatic compression can be difficult for patients to keep up with long-term. In this case study, I want to share how reflexology lymph drainage (RLD), a novel technique based on reflexology and manual lymph drainage, provided an effective stand-alone therapy for managing bilateral lower limb lymphedema in a client following nephrectomy for renal cell carcinoma.


The Client's Case

The client, a 50-year-old male, came to me complaining of swelling and discomfort in both lower legs after having his right kidney removed due to kidney cancer in 2017. He worked long hours on his feet at a bakery, which exacerbated the lymphedema symptoms.


On initial evaluation, he presented with Stage 1 bilateral lower limb lymphedema, more pronounced on the right side where the nephrectomy had been performed. There was noticeable swelling but no redness or temperature changes.


The Treatment Plan

I recommended a course of reflexology lymph drainage (RLD) sessions to address the client's lymphedema. RLD is a specialized technique applying precise pressure to reflexes on the feet and hands that correspond to the lymphatic system. The goal is to stimulate lymph drainage and reduce fluid buildup.


We scheduled four 50-minute RLD sessions approximately one week apart. In each session, I used specific hand, thumb and finger techniques working the lymphatic reflexes on the feet based on the RLD protocol.


The Results

To objectively track the results, the client did an InBody 770 body composition scan before and after each RLD session. We looked at the extracellular water to total body water ratio, with any value over 0.39 considered swollen.


The data showed steady decreases in swelling in all areas after the four RLD sessions:

  • Right Leg: Decreased from 0.393 to 0.372

  • Left Leg: Decreased from 0.398 to 0.373

  • Trunk: Decreased from 0.387 to 0.372

  • Right Arm: Decreased from 0.377 to 0.374

  • Left Arm: Decreased from 0.378 to 0.375


Figure 1: Extracellular to Total Body Water Ratio

Not only did the legs come down into the normal range for fluid levels, but the client's arms and trunk also showed reduction in extracellular fluid even though they were not originally in the swollen range.


The client also noticed subjective improvement, and even needed to purchase new shoes due to the decrease in foot swelling!


Figure 2: Client's Excess Room in Shoes

Conclusion

This case study demonstrates that reflexology lymph drainage can be an effective stand-alone therapy for addressing secondary lymphedema following procedures like nephrectomy. As a non-invasive technique, RLD provided a low-risk way to naturally enhance lymph flow and reduce fluid buildup in this client.


While more research is still needed, RLD shows promise as an adjunctive or alternative treatment that could increase compliance and reduce costs compared to other lymphedema therapies. I encourage other healthcare providers to consider integrating RLD into lymphedema management plans.


Permissions

The client gave written permission to use his medical and personal data.

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