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Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage Part 1

By Jacqueline / January 20th, 2017

This blog post is the first in a two part series on manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). As an LMT, I often come across clients with swelling or edema, most commonly in the wrist, neck lymph nodes, legs, knees, ankles, or feet. This is usually a result of injury, infection, or fluid retention. However, edema can also be associated with a weakened heart, congested liver, or chemical imbalance (Beck). Edema can be temporary or permanent, depending on its cause, but when the source is fluid retention that’s when manual lymphatic drainage massage can play a vital role in its treatment.

What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)?                                              
MLD is a gentle massage that uses light, rhythmic, spiral-like movements to accelerate the movement of lymphatic fluids in the body. It was developed in France by Dr. Emil Vodder and his wife Dr. Estrid Vodder in 1932, due to their keen interest in the anatomy and physiology of the lymph vessel system.

Some Causes of Fluid Retention                                                                                               
Humans are made up of about 70% water so we naturally have a lot of fluid in us and a healthy body can adequately regulate water-levels even with excess fluid intake; however, excessive buildup of fluid can occur in the circulatory system, body tissues, or cavities in the body (Nordqvist). There are a variety of causes including the consumption of high sodium foods, heart failure or cirrhosis, allergies, drugs such as nosteriodal anti inflammatory drugs, estrogen therapies, pregnancy, venous or lymphatic obstruction, or problems with blood flow to the kidneys.

In addition, inactivity can cause fluid retention since exercise stimulates the lymphatic system and helps the leg veins to return blood to the heart. So it’s not surprising when after sitting in a car or plane for several hours, we usually see our ankles and/or feet swollen.

How Does Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) Work?
MLD, as I mentioned earlier, is a very gentle and light massage compared to a regular massage. So, some, when receiving the treatment
may assume it will be ineffective since it feels like very little is being done. However, the goal of these techniques is to manipulate the lymphatic structures located in the subcutaneous tissues (the bottom layer of skin). So, for MLD to be effective, pressure should be just enough to move the skin while avoiding pressing on the muscles.

MLD consists of 4 basic strokes: stationary circle, pump, rotary, and scoop. These techniques are designed to manipulate lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels with the goal of increasing their activity and promote the flow of lymph (Zuther). Each stoke is performed 5 to 7 times in one place with a thrust and relaxation phase. Stagnated lymph is then diverted to the drainage areas: inguinal (groin), axillary(armpit), and neck.

Aside from significantly decreasing edema, MLD also has the following benefits:

  • Induces a state of deep relaxation with its calming effect on the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic state to parasympathetic state).
  • Pain relieving effect
  • Can be beneficial for children and adults.

If you’re interested in receiving a manual lymphatic drainage massage, make sure to seek a licensed massage therapist certified in MLD.

Please stay tuned for the second of the three part series on MLD.

Leave your questions or comments below.



Beck, Mark F. Theory & Practice of Therapeutic Massage. Fifth ed. Clifton Park: Cengage Learning (Milady), 2011. Print.

Földi, Michael, and Roman Strossenreuther. Foundations of Manual Lymph Drainage. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby, 2005. Print.

“Manual Lymph Drainage Ad Modum Dr. Vodder.” Wittlinger Lymphedema Clinic . N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Nordqvist, Christian. “Water Retention (Fluid Retention): Causes, Treatments.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Schrier, Robert W. Diseases of the Kidney and Urinary Tract. 8th ed. Vol. 111. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007. Print.

Willis, Anne. “Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Its Therapeutic Benefits.” Positive Health Online. N.p., Oct. 2004. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Zuther, Joachim. “The Science behind Manual Lymph Drainage in the Treatment of Lymphedema.” Lymphedema Blog RSS. N.p., 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

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