Manual Lymphatic Drainage

What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a form of gentle manual massage which is performed by a therapist trained to focus on specific lymph nodes and particular points of the body in relation to the flow of the lymphatic system itself.

The aim of the therapy is to help the body stimulate the lymphatic (immune) system – a network of vessels and ducts which move fluid throughout the body. The job of this lymphatic system is to remove toxins out of the reach of healthy cells and, at the same time, pass on germ-fighting back-up material to cells which are under attack by a virus or other form of illness.

The therapy is carried out by means of gentle rhythmic strokes from the therapist using his or her hands. Many therapists recommend the treatment as a type of monthly MOT to ensure the body remains in regular good working order and proves less susceptible to illness. An MLD massage also works well as part of a detox regime.

When blocked, the lymphatic system can cause swelling in particular areas (such as the arms and legs, although any area of the body where there are lymph nodes such as the groin and underarms is susceptible). The body then loses a vital means of ridding itself of toxins and the white blood cell count can be negatively affected leading to a loss of immunity and a more likely chance of contracting illness.

A healthy lymphatic system can result in improved circulation, better muscle movement, healthier breathing and a smoother running hormonal cycle. It can also relieve certain types of pain, particularly when associated with the menstrual system and pregnancy. Many doctors and therapists commonly refer to the lymph as the body’s transport and waste disposal system.

What to expect

Prior to your appointment try to relax and turn up in plenty of time, certainly try not to turn up harassed, having rushed to the consulting room. This is a relaxing therapy and being over-stimulated will reduce its effects.

Also avoid alcohol and don’t eat a large meal prior to your massage. It is also a good idea to drink plenty of water in order to begin to flush out toxins from your body. Expect to drink a lot afterwards too as you will be thirty and it will help rid your body of toxic waste. It might be an idea then to turn up with a bottle of water.

Your therapist will want to take a detailed case history. This is your opportunity to let him or her know if you believe there is a possibility you may be pregnant or have any allergies/skin problems which they should know about. Also inform them of any medication you take either on a regular or temporary basis as they will tailor their programme accordingly.

Because MLD affects the immune system it is not advised to have a treatment if you have a thyroid problem, are receiving cancer treatment, have rheumatoid arthritis or are coping with diabetes.

You will be asked to undress and lie on a therapist’s massage table with a towel round you. The room should be heated and comfortable. The therapist will then, using her hands, very slowly and gently stroke your bare skin using circular movements. No oil or lotion should be employed. The therapist will start from your feet and slowly make their way upwards.

The stroking will be in line with the movement of the lymph system (going towards the heart) and the therapist’s touch should be light, leading you into a state of relaxation.

There are four manual drainage techniques commonly applied by therapists. These are:

  • Stationary Circles – strokes applied in continuous spirals, usually over the neck, face and lymphatic nodes.
  • Pump Technique – the therapist places their palms down onto your skin then endeavours to produce oval strokes with their fingers and thumbs
  • Rotary Technique – palms facing down, the therapist massages the skin in circular motions. Pressure is applied and reduced by means of the therapist’s wrists
  • Scoop Strokes – palms facing the sky, the therapist cups their hands to resemble a scoop. He or she then applies twisting strokes to the client’s skin to encourage the elimination of toxins

A full-body first session can last anything up to one hour or more (especially if it involves the taking of a full medical history) whereas more localised sessions – such as the feet, neck or torso – can be from 30 to 40 minutes. You may feel tired initially afterwards but this should pass and you will feel more invigorated.

Effects and benefits

MLD is a very pleasant therapy to receive and often results in the recipient enjoying a sensation of well-being and relaxation. It has been known to fight infection and improve the immune system by increasing B and T lymphocyte production. Because of this it is especially good for individuals who suffer regular colds and flu. It is also recommended for those with a sedentary lifestyle.

Many who receive it report a re-invigorated body while others say oedemas (swellings) are reduced. The massage is also beneficial to the skin’s overall condition and boosts the body into repairing certain conditions such as sprains and fractures etc itself. The type of conditions MLD can help with include:

  • Oral – tooth pain and scars in the mouth
  • Digestive – constipation, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome
  • Stress – fibromyalgia, glandular fever, other chronic fatigue-type problems
  • Sinus-related – hay fever and headaches
  • Cosmetic – under-eye bags, cellulite, skin hydration. Can also be used to aid healing after cosmetic surgery
  • Hormonal – menstrual pain, menopause and hot flushes
  • Post surgical and post traumatic swellings
  • Sports injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reducing stretch marks
  • Alleviate swelling such as that experienced as a result of breast cancer treatment

Manual Lymphatic Drainage and fascinating facts

  • The human body contains more lymph fluid than blood (6 to 10 litres of lymph compared to 3.5 to 5 litres of blood).
  • Lymph fluid flows throughout the entire body
  • 70% of lymph is flowing in the superficial areas of our bodies
  • Lymph is 96% water. The other four per cent is made up of substances such as minerals, lymphocytes, toxins, hormones, proteins, bacteria and food additives
  • Lymph vessels were first recorded by Greek scientists
  • In the 1930s Emil Vodder and his wife Estrid were the first to develop a technique for draining oedemas which resulted in their patients’ sinusitis and acne improving. Following four years of painstaking research, they first tried it out in Paris.
  • Dr Kubrick, of Switzerland, identified what he termed ‘lymphatic watersheds.’ In other words, he showed the direction the lymph should flow when drained manually
  • The lymph system itself was first described by Olaus Rudbeck and Thomas Bartholin
  • Manual lymph drainage uses a specific amount of pressure (less than 9 ounces per square inch)
  • The technique has been shown to increase lymph uptake and flow in animals but has not been tried on humans
  • Lymph comes from the latin word ‘lympha’ meaning water
  • Other means of improving the lymph system include exercise, reducing stress and a good diet
  • lymphoedema is an illness which results from trouble with a blocked lymph system. Symptoms can include swelling, itching, thickening of the skin, insomnia and even hair loss
  • MLD is used as a treatment in hospitals and clinics throughout Europe
  • Manual lymph drainage can increase the rate of lymph reduction in the body up to 20 times faster
  • A study by the University of Brussels showed that manual lymph draining was effective in reducing cellulite
  • The body contains around 600-700 lymph nodes
  • Every day an average of 35 billion lymphocytes circulate continuously in our blood and lymph. In times of stress this can increase by as much as 562 billion

Professional Organisations

MLDUK (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) UK

Promotes public awareness of the therapy for both therapists and clients. Provides information on the treatment and an internal register of practitioners and courses. Has details of organisations involved with the condition lymphoedema. Therapists are required to update their skills every two years and to hold full insurance

British Lymphology Society

Health care professionals involved in the treatment and management of lymphoedema. Promotes awareness, greater interaction and sharing of information between medical professionals, therapists, the public and patients.

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