Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is the traditional method of moving lymph in order to drain swollen areas of the body and return the excess fluid to the circulatory system so it may be excreted from the body.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage is the “gold standard” in lymphatic drainage for Lymphedema and Lipedema, and is available for anyone unable to use Electro-Lymphatic Therapy (ELT) due to wounds, pacemakers, or other conditions.
MLD is one of several steps that make up Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).
Video of Manual Lymphatic Drainage
The video above gives a brief demonstration of Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) for the upper body.
Is MLD the Same as “Lymphatic Massage”?
Many therapists, and especially large chain massage places, advertise “Lymphatic Massage.”
It is even used to some degree in marketing for Pain & Swelling Solutions because more people understand the term “Lymphatic Massage” better than they do “Manual Lymphatic Drainage.” It simply markets better – more people find it on google.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is often referred to as “Lymphatic Massage” or “Lymph Massage” in everyday language. On the whole there is little harm in using this terminology to refer to MLD when explaining to a friend what you are having done.
However, there is a very big difference when you go to choose a practitioner. The training someone has who is offering “Lymphatic Massage” can vary wildly.
A massage therapist who took the basic required classes to become a massage therapist may have read a paragraph in a book that vaguely explained the notion of lymphatic work. They may have even had a short demo by an instructor of how to do a lighter version of Swedish massage and they may have been told that was “lymphatic massage.” (It’s not. See below.)
A Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT), on the other hand, has been through a minimum of 135 hours of training on Manual Lymphatic Drainage, the anatomy and physiology of the lymphatic system, medical complications and adaptations regarding lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging techniques, and compression garments.
Most Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLT’s) are Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, or physicians. There are only a handful of massage therapists who hold this credential, but they have had the same training and have passed the same rigorous exam.
So, as you are looking around to see where you can get a “lymphatic massage”/Manual Lymphatic Drainage, don’t just look at the advertising. Look at the person’s credentials.
What Technically is the Difference Between Manual Lymph Drainage and
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a technique that is very specific in direction, stroke, and pressure in order to effectively move fluid out of a swollen area.
Lymphatic Massage implies that the therapist glides over the skin with oil. True Manual Lymphatic Drainage actually stretches skin gently and does not use any type of lubricant.
A “light massage” is NOT the same as Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD).
How Does MLD Work?
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a very specific manual technique that is used to open lymphatic vessels in swollen tissues. Fluid then flows into the vessels and is routed along very specific pathways to return lymph to the circulatory system.
The process works by first opening the ducts where lymph empties into the circulatory system at the superior vena cava next to the heart. This is the equivalent of unclogging a pipe where the water backed up in the sink is then sucked down the drain.