• Warragul Wellness Centre

Manual lymphatic Drainage

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

Sarah Millard

Massage Therapist


What did your mirror have to offer this morning? If it was bags under the eyes and a host of new wrinkles, it might be time for a lymphatic drainage treatment. Give your skin a treat for spring. Read on to find out about the benefits of lymphatic drainage.


What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)?

When you intervene and encourage the fluid to drain properly, it’s known as manual lymphatic drainage. You can jazz up your whole system with a treatment, whether or not you have fluid retention. It can be a stand-alone procedure, or it can be incorporated into a massage treatment. You can even do it yourself and I encourage all my clients to do so with take home instructions on self massage.


What is The Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is the secondary system of circulation in the body with a very complex set of tasks. The major tasks are cleaning and nourishing the cells. Sounds simple enough, but without it, we wouldn’t survive long. The lymphatic system is a sort of go-between from the blood circulation to the individual cells. Lymph is a clear fluid containing nutrients and oxygen similar to blood but without the red and white corpuscles. It comes from the general circulation and is deposited around the cells to keep them nourished. The cells are able to discard waste and toxic materials into this fluid. The lymphatic vessels pick up this waste and any excess fluid from around cells and transport it, via the lymph nodes which filter it, back into the general circulation. It’s a one-way shuttle, so lymph should only ever flow in one direction – away from the cells and towards the heart.


Reasons for Poor Lymphatic Flow

Poor lifestyle choices are the commonest causes of an inefficient lymphatic system, though they are certainly not the only ones.

· Lack of exercise - lymphatic fluid needs muscle power to push it round the body

· Poor diet – may increase congestion and produce more waste for the lymph to pick up and dispose of

· Pollutants – environmental and dietary

· Surgery and trauma

· Pregnancy


Aims and therapeutic benefit of MLD therapy

The aim of the MLD therapist is to restore equilibrium in the tissues and ensure that 'that which enters equals that which departs'. If the body is not in this state of equilibrium, and there is too much fluid in the tissues, they become soft and 'boggy' to the touch. If excess fluid is present it can interfere with cell nutrition – oxygen and nutrients will take longer to pass through the tissues and get from the bloodstream to the cells through the interstitial fluid. This will also mean that waste products from cell metabolism will take longer to move from cells to the transport system, which will remove them from the body. If the lymphatic system is functioning well, we feel well. There are many reasons for the Lymphatic system to be sluggish and not functioning well, leaving fluid static in the tissues. Pollution, toxins, poor nutrition, mucous formation, overload from previous viral or bacterial infections etc – these are all things that can give rise to cellular stagnation.


Major Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage

Every part of the body is influenced by the lymphatic system, because no matter what the purpose of the cells, they all need nourishing and cleaning. It’s important in immunity, inflammation and healing in general, so an efficient lymphatic system is going to help in many areas. Lymphatic drainage is a way to achieve that efficiency.

· Skin care: For a clearer complexion and to lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in facial tissue, as well as reducing puffiness around the eyes. Old scar tissue can be reduced while the appearance of new scars can be minimized. It’s commonly used before and after cosmetic surgery.

· Detox: At the end of winter, or after a period of high stress, the body will really benefit from lymphatic drainage, to reduce the sluggishness brought on by too many starchy, high fat foods and too little exercise.

· Headache and allergy sufferers: Most headaches including sinusitis have a component of congestion that responds well to lymphatic drainage. Once tissue is decongested, blocked fluid and blood flow improve, reducing pain and discomfort.

· Promote healing: After surgery or injury, the tissue may be swollen and sore. Lymphatic drainage is a gentle treatment that will help drain the tissue, reduce inflammation and improve healing.

· Pregnancy and after: There is often fluid retention in pregnant women and lymphatic drainage can improve comfort especially in legs and feet. Breast feeding will be enhanced by this treatment, especially when there are problems with blocked ducts and sore tight breasts.

· Reduce swelling: After long periods of immobility such as air travel or lessened mobility, fluid tends to stagnate in the tissue making it puffy and tender. Conditions such as arthritis often have joints that are congested with fluid. All of these respond well when fluid is reduced with lymphatic drainage.

· Relaxation: Because it is such a gentle treatment, it is one of the most relaxing. And the relaxation is enhanced as the cleansing and rejuvenating effects relieve stress.

Most people will notice improvements in their level of wellbeing after a treatment because lymphatic drainage has so many benefits.


Therapeutic Benefits of MLD

There are many other conditions, that benefit from the application of MLD, because of its propensity to move fluid, but MLD also has other properties that have great therapeutic value besides decongesting tissue.

Because it is a very light massage, utilizing repetitive and continuous hand movements, it has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system which Vodder explains as "a change from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state" stressing the importance of the lightness of touch so as not to trigger a release of histamines in the tissue which would otherwise overstimulate. The effect is to induce a state of deep relaxation in the body allowing even the walls of vessels and bowels to be relaxed. For this reason, MLD is an excellent therapy for sufferers of hypertension.

MLD is also believed to have an analgesic effect based on the Gate Theory where nocireceptors (pain receptors) and mechanoreceptors (touch receptors) of the central nervous system share a synapse or pathway. A simplified explanation could be that the touch receptors are stimulated by the light, repetitive touch of MLD, these signals overtake or crowd out those sent by the pain receptors. MLD will also remove from cells the chemicals associated with the central nervous systems pain response. In practice, MLD does, indeed, have an analgesic effect.

Not yet proven but noted empirically and anecdotally, a logical consequence of MLD is in boosting the immune system. Lymph stagnation impedes the body's immunological response so speeding up the workings of the lymphatic system must promote it. Certainly, people who are receiving MLD on a regular basis, report that they no longer pick up colds and sore throats as frequently as they may have done before having the treatment.

Vodder quotes over 60 different ailments and conditions for which MLD is indicated – these include migraine and chronic headaches, common acne and acne rosacea, constipation, eczema, tinnitus, Ménière's, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid and osteo arthritis, sinus congestion and chronic catarrh, tendonitis, repetitive strain injury, whiplash and other trauma to name a few. It can be used to improve scar tissue and to reduce bruising after surgery or injury. It is an excellent therapy for rejuvenation as a beauty treatment and can reduce puffiness and fine lines and wrinkles.

MLD is also an effective treatment for localized post-traumatic oedema after bruising, distortion, fracture, dislocation or surgical procedures and is a useful to complement mobilization by physical therapy.

There are some people who cannot have MLD, as there are some absolute contra-indications to treatment and some cases where caution is warranted. The MLD therapist takes a full medical history to determine suitability of the treatment before sessions can commence.


What to expect

Relaxation. Rejuvenation.

Compared to traditional massage, the pressure applied with manual lymph drainage is much lower in intensity. The goal of these techniques is to manipulate the lymphatic structures located in the subcutaneous tissues. In order to achieve the desired effect, the pressure in the working phase should be sufficient enough to stretch the subcutaneous tissues against the fascia (a structure separating the skin from the muscle layer) located underneath, but not to manipulate the underlying muscle tissue. The amount of pressure needed in MLD is sometimes described as the pressure applied stroking a newborn’s head.

Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a gentle manual treatment technique based on four basic strokes, which were initially developed in the 1930’s by Dr. Emil Vodder, a PhD from Denmark. These basic strokes known as the “stationary circle”, “pump”, rotary” and “scoop” techniques are designed to manipulate lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels with the goal of increasing their activity and promote the flow of lymph.

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