Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage

What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) massage is a gentle, rhythmic massage with a soft touch that lightly stimulates your skin in the direction of your lymphatic flow.

This massage assists your lymphatic system in maintaining your body’s fluid balance, immune system and circulatory system; it also assists in reducing toxins in your body. 

Developed by Dr Emil Vodder and his wife Estrid in the 1930s as a treatment for lymphedema, this treatment stimulates lymphatic fluid, encouraging the lymph to move more freely around your body assisting in the reduction of swollen lymph nodes; it also has a powerfully relaxing and calming effect on your nervous system.

WOAH!  Let’s start with my lymphatic system……what’s that?

Your lymphatic system is part of your body’s immune system helping to defend you against infection and cancer. It transports lymph – a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells – throughout your body via a network of vessels, nodes, ducts and some of your glands (tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus).

Amongst other functions, your lymphatic system is key for immunity, blood pressure regulation and digestion.

Blood plasma leaks out of small capillaries into your body’s tissues. This extracellular fluid, lymph, is made up of excess fluid, fats, proteins, bacteria and other substances and collected from the tissues by lymph capillaries.  These lymph capillaries link with your larger lymph vessels and the lymph is carried through these until it reaches your lymph nodes.

The job of the lymph nodes is to filter out and excrete any unwanted particles, such as bacterial and viral pathogens and cancerous cells, before returning the cleaned lymph to your circulatory system at the subclavian vein.

As well as filtering, excretion and recycling, your lymphatic system also helps create and circulate vital disease fighting cells such as lymphocytes, monocytes and antibodies.

The lymphatic system has no pump and it is the pressure from your circulatory system and movement from your muscles that create lymphatic flow.

Your lymphatic system

So, if my lymphatic system functions without me doing anything, why do I need lymphatic drainage massage?

Unfortunately, there can be many factors that might contribute towards a clogged lymphatic system and it is believed that a lymphatic system that is not functioning optimally can cause many health problems.  Lymphatic drainage massage assists in moving fluid out of damaged areas to where the body is functioning normally. 

Lymphatic drainage massage is also considered beneficial to skincare and well-being and it is remarkably detoxifying and relaxing.  

In fact, many people have MLD after illness or injury, after a stressful period, or with the changing seasons as they find it very purifying, revitalising their energy so they are ready to face the world and new challenges.

How does manual lymphatic drainage work?

MLD is a unique massage that uses a variety of specialised skin-stretching movements to gently stimulate the lymphatic fluid under your skin.  This promotes the movement of the lymphatic fluid, encouraging it to flow freely around your lymphatic system.

Where there are blockages (areas of lymph build up) the advanced techniques of this massage help stimulate the lymph nodes and increase the rhythmic contractions of the lymphatic vessels encouraging them to find new pathways that enable the lymph to drain away from the swollen area.

Free-flowing lymph and an optimally working lymphatic system helps renew, nourish, strengthen and regenerate the cells of your body whilst also assisting with the removal of excess fluid from the system and waste products. 

What causes swelling/blockages in my body?

A sluggish, compromised or blocked lymphatic system is most commonly a side-effect of surgery, infection, trauma or certain diseases (such as autoimmune disorders or cancer).

When the lymph builds up in a particular area of the body, such as the arms or the legs, this is known as lymphedema.

Lymphedema symptoms can include swelling, skin discoloration, pain, weakness and feelings of heaviness in the affected arm or leg.

Peripheral oedema does not occur as a result of a poorly functioning lymphatic system, however, this kind of swelling of the tissues of the arm or legs does respond well to lymphatic drainage treatment.

How would a lymphatic drainage massage help me?

MLD is extremely relaxing, is a great boost to your body’s immune system and can enhance your well-being.

MLD is preventative, remedial, relaxing and can enhance your well being. Furthermore, MLD:

  • Is deeply relaxing.
  • Promotes the healing of fractures, torn ligaments, sprains and lessens pain.
  • Can improve many chronic conditions: sinusitis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, acne and other skin conditions.
  • May strengthen the immune system as part of “detox” treatment.
  • Relieves fluid congestion: swollen ankles, tired puffy eyes and swollen legs due to pregnancy.
  • Is an effective component of the treatment and control of lymphoedema and assists in conditions arising from venous insufficiency.
  • Promotes healing of wounds and burns and improves the appearance of old scars.
  • Minimises or reduces stretch marks.
  • Recommended as a pre-surgery treatment to prepare your body and tissue for the upcoming procedure and after surgery (especially cosmetic procedures) to speed recovery.  Please see my blog on MLD for surgical procedures.

What Conditions can Manual Lymphatic Drainage Help With?

Manual lymphatic drainage may help with:

  • Lymphedema
  • Fibromyalgia – in fact authors of a 2015 systematic review concluded that MLD might be more effective that regular massage in relieving symptoms of stiffness and depressing in FM sufferers
  • Oedema (swelling)
  • Skin disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Stress
  • Digestive issues
  • Arthritis
  • Migraines & headaches
  • Sinus issues
  • Excess weight
  • Post trauma oedema
  • Post surgery – please see my MLD during surgery blog
  • Palliative care – please also see my article on Oncology massage
  • Lymphedema – primary and secondary
  • Lipedema
  • Chronic venous insufficiency 
  • Reducing intracranial pressure in severe cerebral diseases.

I’m healthy and feel fine, should I have MLD?

This gentle, soothing massage is suitable for everyone.  Considered an MOT for your body, it is a great treatment to have when you are feeling a little ‘meh’, or with the changing of the seasons.

A 2014 study showed that MLD had a soothing effect on the sympathetic nervous system reducing anxiety and pain.

So, is MLD suitable for everyone?

As with most therapeutic treatments and complementary therapies, there are a few conditions that prevent lymphatic massage.

If you have any of the following conditions, you will not be able to receive a lymphatic drainage massage unless you have your medical professional’s written permission. However, if you are suffering from any of the following and would like to receive a treatment, please do contact me so we can discuss suitable alternatives.

The conditions that prevent MLD include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Blood clots / DVT
  • Kidney problems / renal failure
  • Infections
  • Circulatory problems

I’d love a massage, how can I book?

Please book your lymphatic massage by clicking here.

Any lymphatic self-care top-tips?


  • Water – drinking the recommended 2L of water a day will help flush out your system
  • Activity – even gentle activity will help encourage a healthy flow of lymph – the movement of your muscles applies pressure on the lymphatic vessels to help keep them moving
  • Body brushing – using circular movements over your skin with a bristle brush
  • Hot and cold showers – alternate dilating and constricting of your blood vessels helps the body eliminate toxic fluids
  • Avoiding tight clothes that may restrict your lymphatic flow
  • Deep breathing – this will help the lymphatic system transport lymph to your liver for filtration
  • Eating foods that support and promote a healthy lymphatic system
  • Avoiding foods that are believed to block the lymphatic system
  • Herbal teas – some herbal teas promote lymph health

References and recommended reading

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