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Systematic Review of Efficacy for Manual Lymphatic Drainage Techniques in Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation: An Evidence-Based Practice Approach

Abstract

Manual therapists question integrating manual lymphatic drainage techniques (MLDTs) into conventional treatments for athletic injuries due to the scarcity of literature concerning musculoskeletal applications and established orthopaedic clinical practice guidelines. The purpose of this systematic review is to provide manual therapy clinicians with pertinent information regarding progression of MLDTs as well as to critique the evidence for efficacy of this method in sports medicine. We surveyed English-language publications from 1998 to 2008 by searching PubMed, PEDro, CINAHL, the Cochrane Library, and SPORTDiscus databases using the terms lymphatic system, lymph drainage, lymphatic therapy, manual lymph drainage, and lymphatic pump techniques. We selected articles investigating the effects of MLDTs on orthopaedic and athletic injury outcomes. Nine articles met inclusion criteria, of which 3 were randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We evaluated the 3 RCTs using a validity score (PEDro scale). Due to differences in experimental design, data could not be collapsed for meta-analysis. Animal model experiments reinforce theoretical principles for application of MLDTs. When combined with concomitant musculoskeletal therapy, pilot and case studies demonstrate MLDT effectiveness. The best evidence suggests that efficacy of MLDT in sports medicine and rehabilitation is specific to resolution of enzyme serum levels associated with acute skeletal muscle cell damage as well as reduction of edema following acute ankle joint sprain and radial wrist fracture. Currently, there is limited high-ranking evidence available. Well-designed RCTs assessing outcome variables following implementation of MLDTs in treating athletic injuries may provide conclusive evidence for establishing applicable clinical practice guidelines in sports medicine and rehabilitation.
KEYWORDS: Edema, Lymphatic Pump Techniques, Lymphatic Therapy, Manual Lymph Drainage, Manual Therapy

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