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Introduction to MLD
Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD), is a very gentle type of treatment technique that addresses swelling (edema) trapped in your body’s tissues. This swelling may be evident in the feet, ankles, legs, arms, etc., when there has been injury or trauma. However, internal swelling, in areas such as the shoulders and spine or even around scar tissue or any post-operative areas, cannot be seen but may be causing symptoms such as pain and stiffness. Because we use a total body balance approach, both internal and external swelling is effectively addressed; we do not need to know exactly where the stagnation is located. MLD consists of gently stretching and directing the skin in order to stimulate the lymphatic system. We prepare the lymph nodes that are easily accessible, to promote whole body (systemic) drainage. This is one of those cases where less is more. The goal is to show the body how to self-correct and move any stagnant fluid that may be having a negative impact on the body.

 

MLD is most notoriously known for reducing swelling caused by fluid build-up after cancer treatment (lymphedema); it can reduce edema following an injury. It can also reduce fluid retention due to inflammation or a disease process. It is used to decrease pain, reduce stiffness, restore movement, and allow for optimal tissue healing. MLD drains excess fluid from the tissues, while also having a detoxifying effect. Although it is most often used to address medical conditions, MLD can benefit a healthy person as well. A properly functioning lymphatic system is essential for overall health.

 

MLD is an advanced type of manual therapy (or medical massage), but it is quite different than classic massage. It consists of gentle, rotating, pumping motions that moves the lymph fluid without increasing the blood circulation. Increasing the blood circulation with deep massage and heat can inhibit the movement of lymph fluid by changing the permeability of the lymph and blood vessels. 

The MLD treatment session

After an initial consultation, you will undress, lie down on a massage table in the face-up position, covered modestly with a sheet. The atmosphere is the same as a massage treatment room with dim lighting and soft music.  Although you are in a massage setting, it is important to understand that MLD is a specific form of bodywork designed to efficiently move lymph fluid in your body. MLD is completely different from a deep tissue, Swedish or relaxation massage that you may be expecting or have had in the past. Stimulation of the Lymphatic System activates the para-sympathetic nervous system producing an automatic physiological relaxation response. Many clients fall asleep. Only the area being worked on is undraped at any time. Gentle, rotating, pumping motions with the therapist’s hands and fingertips begin at the collarbone area, then focus on areas where there is a concentration of lymph nodes…the underarms, abdomen, groin and back of the knees. Usually the entire session is performed with you lying in the face-up position because all the areas of lymph nodes that need to be decongested are generally located on the front of the body.

 

We recommend booking the first session for 60 minutes. Your treatment plan can then be discussed and developed with your therapist. The amount of sessions needed can vary based upon many different factors. Very often 2-3 sessions are recommended, although sometimes just having a single session can be tremendously effective. In the case of severe swelling or following surgery, it is not uncommon to need 6-12 sessions.

 

MLD can be done every day. In some countries it is done 3 times a day. How often you need to come is based on your condition and general health. We can discuss this during the initial consultation. Generally, we see patients 2-3 times a week for non-controlled swelling and less often for maintenance and well-being.

Contraindications

Talk to your doctor and make sure you get their approval for a Manual Lymph Drainage session if you have or had congestive heart failure, blood clots, kidney problems, infections, or circulation problems.

The Importance of the lymphatic system

Signs of a congested lymphatic system may include:

  • Swollen glands

  • Puffiness in eyes or face

  • Swelling in the fingers or ankles

  • Bloating or holding on to water

  • Headaches

  • Sinus infections

  • Skin issues, such as dry or itchy skin

  • Soreness or stiffness upon waking

  • Constipation

  • Weight gain and extra belly fat

  • Breast swelling or tenderness

  • A sense of fogginess in the brain

  • Worsened allergies

  • Food sensitivities

  • Increased colds or flu

The lymphatic system is a critical part of the immune system, vital for protecting us from illness, as well as  damaging, disease-causing inflammation. Essentially, the lymphatic system is the body’s inner “drainage system.”  MLD addresses the lymphatic network of vessels and lymph nodes that carries fluids from tissues around the body. The lymphatic system has the primary role of protecting the body against outside threats — such as infections, bacteria and cancer cells — while helping keep fluid levels in balance.

The Lymphatic system is our recycling center and plays an integral role in the immune functions of the body. It is our first line of defense against infection and keeps our body’s waste products and fluids in balance. When this system becomes blocked, our fluid thickens and swelling in the blocked area occurs. The swelling is often internal and cannot be seen or felt. The lymphatic system’s network of tissues and organs can be effectively stimulated by utilizing the specific techniques of MLD. When applied properly it will increase the lymphatic flow, stimulating a malfunctioning or fatigued system and clearing up blockages in areas that are stagnant. It can either be used on specific areas or as a total body-balancing approach. By innervating specific areas with MLD, the entire body can be positively affected, and imaging studies have shown that we can increase the speed of flow by about tenfold.