What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is the part of lymphedema treatment that patients usually refer to as massage. Some therapists prefer to call it manipulation, to distinguish it from the more usual sort of massage done to relieve muscle tightness, or simply for relaxation at a spa.
The manipulation involved in MLD uses very light pressure to stimulate the lymph vessels that lie just beneath the skin. Since these vessels are small and thin, firm pressure in any one area can actually shut them down momentarily, so the gentleness of the pressure is essential. Some therapists visualize this process as pushing the lymph fluid in the desired direction, while others see it as directing the flow by pulling the skin slightly ahead of the lymph flow. Either way, MLD is an important technique for moving lymph fluid out of the congested area and back into circulation in the center of the body.
The direction and order of MLD manipulation is as important as the gentle stroke. First the areas of the body where nodes are concentrated (neck, axilla, or groin) are stimulated in order to ready them to receive more fluid. Then the therapist begins, close to the nodes, moving fluid toward them with slow and rhythmic strokes. The massage continues with the therapists hands moving farther away from the cleared nodes by degrees, but always directing the fluid back toward them.
For a therapist, every patient is a new challenge. The length, condition and location of surgical scars, the amount and position of any fibrotic (hard) areas, and the condition of the skin are all things to be taken into consideration to determine the best treatment. The therapist also takes into consideration whether a client has had lymph nodes removed due to cancer, the number and location of lymph nodes that were removed is critical in the therapist treatment process, and the extent of cancer treatment each individual received or is receiving is taken into account to determine the most efficient route for directing the lymph fluid.
How Can MLD Help?
The effects of MLD are numerous and generally it affects the nervous system, so aiding pain relief and encouraging relaxation, soothes tired sore muscles, aids fluid movement in the connective tissue by stimulating the lymph vessels and possibly has an affect on the immune system (though this has not yet been proven).
Conditions which could benefit from MLD
- Fluid Retention
- Cancer, especially when lymph nodes have been removed
- Edema resulting from sprains/muscle injury/sports injuries/surgery
- Parkinson’s disease
- Fibrocystic Breast Disease
- Aches and pains
- Tension and Stress
- Digestive problems