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The Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage

Sarah Millard - Massage Therapist

Lymphatic drainage is a technique designed to stimulate the flow of lymph (a fluid that transports white blood cells, oxygen, and nutrients to tissues throughout the body). Also referred to as 'manual lymph drainage' or 'lymphatic massage.' Lymphatic drainage typically involves gentle, circular movements. Lymphatic drainage techniques are among the most scientifically documented, gentle and efficient hands-on therapeutic tools practiced today. They are widely utilized in hospitals and clinics across Europe.

The lymphatic flow can stagnate for many reasons, such as swelling, chronic inflammation, lack of physical activity, stress, fatigue, emotional shock, age, poorly fitted clothing, or brassieres worn for an excessive amount of time. When lymphatic circulation slows down, the regeneration of cells becomes less effective. This condition allows toxins and proteins to accumulate around the cells, causing cellular oxygenation to decrease and tissue regeneration to diminish.

MLD massage is beneficial for many medical reasons as well as a means to improve our overall health and well-being.

The applications of Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage are numerous:

• Circulation of lymph, blood capillaries, veins, interstitial liquids and cerebrospinal and synovial fluids (in-directly) is activated. This action helps to reroute stagnant fluid in the skin (i.e., oedema, primary and secondary lymphedema), mucosa, muscles, viscera, joints, cranial sutures, periosteum,chambers of the eyes and cochlea.

• Toxins are removed, making lymphatic drainage especially effective in tissue regeneration. Scars, stretch marks, wrinkles and fracture, or surgical-incision sites, are improved. Many therapists also use MLD as part of detoxification and anti-aging regimens.

• Macromolecules (proteins) are drained, which helps to eliminate protein-rich fluid from the extracellular tissues and aid the reabsorption of oedema.

• Fats are evacuated through lymphatic vessels. These vessels are located in virtually every area of the body where fats may accumulate.

• The functioning of the immune system is stimulated through increased lymph flow. The additional flow carries more antigens to the lymph nodes, thereby increasing antibody/antigen contact. This has been found to help with chronic or subacute inflammatory processes — chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disease, bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, arthritis, acne and eczema.

• The functioning of the parasympathetic system is bolstered and sympathetic tone is diminished with stimulation of the lymphatics — the “fight or flight” response. This can be very helpful in dealing with stress, depression and sleeping disorders.

• Chronic pain is reduced as the drainage alleviates tissue-fluid stagnation and possibly inhibits nociceptors (pain receptors).

• Voluntary and involuntary muscle spasms are reduced, proving helpful in cases of constipation, IBS and other muscle-related maladies.

Reasons your therapist may suggest MLD as part of your treatment:

• It can be used as part of a post sporting and post injury RICE protocol when clients are unable to receive deep tissue or other massage techniques that would otherwise be contraindicated.

• It can be performed as a preventative technique that bolsters our bodies’ ability to rejuvenate and resist all types of stress. This results in the speeding up of the fluid’s movement throughout the lymphatic system, Filtering toxins through the major organs, enabling the increase of lymphocyte transportation and production.

• It can be included as a valuable ‘add in’ to the massage treatment plan, and can be used as a prequel to other techniques such a myofascial tension technique and deep tissue. With the use of MLD we are able to gently and specifically engage the fascia and the fluid, simultaneously releasing the tissues of the lymphatic-extracellular fluid and fascial planes and in one movement negate many of the negative side effects of purely fascial work which can lead to bruising and inflammation.

• It can be used pre and post surgery as a way to prepare tissues for incision and also to promote healing and tissue health post surgery preventing infection and other post surgical complications.

• MLD not only stimulates the vital functions of the skin, tissues and internal organs, but also serves to eliminate cellular waste and stimulate the parasympathetic relaxation response inhibiting muscle tone and pain.

Scientific studies show that lymphatic drainage may be beneficial in the treatment of a number of health problems.

A common list of massage room pathologies that would benefit from MLD includes:

• Fluid retention, lymphedema, sinusitis, hay fever, pain relief and anti-inflammatory,

anxiety/stress related disorders, IBS and fibromyalgia, post sporting, carpel tunnel, golfers

and tennis elbow, bruising and oedema.


Lymphatic drainage shows promise in the treatment of fibromyalgia, suggests a report published in Manual Therapy in 2015. For the report, researchers reviewed 10 previously published clinical trials on the effects of massage on symptoms and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia. While myofascial release was found to have large, positive effects on pain, manual lymphatic drainage was found to be better than connective tissue massage for stiffness, depression, and quality of life.

What to expect when you arrive for a MLD appointment:

When you first arrive you will be asked to complete some questions about yourself and have a few moments to ask any questions you may have for the therapist.

Please be aware areas treated are of a sensitive nature being in the arm pit/breast tissue/edge of pubic region. You may of course ask for treatment to stop at any time you feel uncomfortable. For you to gain best outcome it is best to be free of clothing during treatment, for which you will be provided with towelling for appropriate draping as instructed by your therapist and ensured a safe boundary between yourself and therapist at all times. Informed consent form must be completed before treatment may commence.

 Expect to undress to your level of comfort but know that direct contact with the skin is

always best. Tight clothing and under wire bras will make it difficult to get lymph moving.

 If you choose to wear clothing during your session, wear loose cotton underwear and a v-neck t-shirt or tank top so the neck and collar bones can be accessed by your therapist.

- Forget everything you know about massage!

MLD is NOT a muscular massage. It is a harmonious manual treatment using mild mechanical traction or ‘lifting’ of the connective tissue to facilitate decongestion of lymphatic pathways and stimulation of the groups of lymph nodes. MLD is best described as a gentle rhythmic relaxing form of bodywork.

 Your massage therapist's touch will often be very light to moderate (just enough

pressure to stretch the skin) but the treatment should never elicit pain or discomfort.

 Your therapist will concentrate on several key areas of your lymphatic system: neck,

armpits, abdomen, hips. Organs such as the liver and kidneys, lungs and digestive

track will also be addressed in addition to any areas of complaint.

 You may experience sensations on the table as lymph fluids begin to move (tingling,

coolness in fingers and toes, digestive noises).

Side Effects and Precautions:

Lymphatic drainage should be avoided by individuals experiencing any of the following:

1. Congestive heart failure, heart valve insufficiency (or Asthma due to heart issues)

2. Inflammation or infection of the lymphatic vessels

3. Increased risk of blood clotting

4. Skin infection

5. Post-surgery lymphodema marked by localized swelling

6. Dangerously low blood pressure (MLD procedure further lowers blood pressure)

What to expect after your Lymph Drainage session: 

The list below are only a FEW of the more common healing responses that may be experienced shortly after your session:

 Feeling your body as 'light and fluffy.'

 Brain Fog.

 Increased odorous urination.

 Increased odorous bowel movements.

 Temporary change in your body odour. Increased sweat.

 Deeper and more restful sleep.

 Hunger or cravings for fats.

 Thirst.

 Tiredness, wanting to rest or nap.

 Sinus Drainage.

 Ear Drainage.

 Reductions in swelling and headaches.

 Reductions in swollen lymph nodes (2-7 days)

 Shifts in congestion (one sinus to another etc.) or pressure changes in joints or areas

where prior injury or trauma has occurred.

After Several Lymph Drainage Therapy Sessions, other common benefits may occur:

 Weight loss with a reduction in adipose and cellulite tissue.

 Reduced water retention.

 Reduction or elimination of your chronic pain.

 Reduction of your skin conditions and allergies.

 Increased energy.

 Increased metabolism.

 Reduction of PMS symptoms.

 Improved range of motion in your joints.

 Stronger immune system function and illness prevention.

 Regeneration or youthfulness of skin tissue.

To support your continued detoxification and regeneration process, the therapist will give

you self treatment exercises to do regularly and discuss other lifestyle modifications to

assist you to get the most out of your treatment.

Book your MLD treatment here!

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