Leg massage can ease the lymphatic congestion that causes breast pain, says Liz Hodgkinson
If you suffer from lumpy, painful breasts you should massage firmly up the side of the leg - it allows the lymphatic glands around the breasts to drain away the toxic substances that caused the problem in the first place. If you think this sounds cranky, think again: this "alternative" treatment for breast congestion, known as kinesiology, is being taken seriously by orthodox doctors. The oncology unit at Guy's Hospital, south London, has just instituted a two-year clinical trial to determine its effectiveness as a treatment for tender, sore, lumpy breasts.

Breast pain and congestion is a common and distressing female problem for which at present there is no successful treatment. Many women with breast pain end up being referred to cancer units for investigation, but most biopsies show no abnormality whatever in the cells. In the meantime, patients may have been through a distressing process when no cancer is present.

Kinesiology is a method of testing muscles to discover the bodily imbalances that can cause ill-health. Applied kinesiology is a form of massage used by alternative practitioners to treat problems such as skin conditions and food allergies as well as breast pain. They claim it is quick, easy and effective.

Ian Fentiman, deputy director of the cancer unit at Guy's, became interested in kinesiology after a colleague found it highly effective for a troublesome skin condition. The unit sees a vast number of women patients - about 2,000 a year - referred for intractable breast pain, for whom nothing much can be done.

About 200 women will participate in the Guy's trial, which will compare results from patients who undergo and are taught the technique with a group who have had no treatment. The women in the former group will be seen by a kinesiologist three times for half an hour over a two-month period.

Mr Fentiman, who is co-ordinating the trial, says: "Chronic breast pain has a profound effect on sufferers' lives and should not be dismissed as a non-serious 'woman's problem'. Our research into chronic breast pain has shown that levels of anxiety in patients is as great as those with breast cancer.

"We use tamoxifen [an anti-oestrogen drug also used in breast cancer treatment] for this condition, but worry about the long-term effects of this strong drug. Our preliminary results from the trial are very encouraging and exciting. Kinesiology has certainly helped our patients suffering from chronic breast pain. Anything which can avoid drugs is recommended."

The kinesiologist working on the trial with Ian Fentiman is Stephanie Mills, who has been teaching this approach for 15 years. Also an acupuncturist, she runs a specialised clinic where women can be taught to self-administer the technique.

"In some women, the problem is so bad that they can't even lie on their side, or in any position where the breast may press against something. Also, it's agony if somebody accidentally brushes against them," she says.

"We want to make women aware that severe breast pain, which disrupts so many people's lives, can be alleviated. Most women become terrified when they find a lump, but in over 90 per cent of cases it is caused by lymphatic congestion rather than cancer.

"We don't know exactly what causes the lymphatic system to become clogged, but we do know that this drainage system depends on movement to get around. Lack of exercise, lack of water - the majority of people I see simply never drink any plain water at all - and also underwired bras can all make this condition worse.

"It seems that metal wires in bras can irritate the lymphatic reflexes. Anti-perspirants can block pores, and smoking and alcohol can also have a clogging effect. Also, some people suffer from food intolerance which means their digestive system is not working optimally."

The rationale for rubbing up the leg is that the lymphatic reflex there relates to the large intestine, the main organ of elimination. "We have discovered that massaging up the thigh creates a kind of jump lead between the lymphatic system and the large intestine, and enables waste matter to be drained away," says Ms Mills.

"At the same time as rubbing up the leg, you massage lightly around the breast. There are three simple steps involved. You first locate the areas of sore lumpiness. Then you select the sorest point and touch it very lightly. You then massage firmly up the side of the leg. You can either do it yourself, or get your partner to do it for you. It shouldn't hurt at all.

With some women, she says, breast tenderness is affected by the menstrual cycle, and it can be alleviated after a period by this method. "The technique shows sufferers that there is something they can do for themselves to treat the problem, rather than just having to suffer."

A book, 'Your Breasts', which explains the technique, written by kinesiologist Brian Butler, is published by Task Books, and is available from bookshops price pounds 6.95. The Association of Systematic Kinesiology can be contacted at: 39 Browns Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KTS 8ST.