MANUAL LYMPH DRAINAGE
Manual Lymph Drainage is a gentle method for working with the body's own natural healing system in order to help reduce swelling, speed healing, and can even help manage some chronic neurological conditions. How can it do so many different things? It works with your lymphatic system, it helps with anything that system helps to manage.
Through light, strategic strokes on the skin, this technique increases the speed at which lymph is moved through the body. Lymph normally moves at 10-12 "beats" per minute since there is no beating organ to move it (like the heart does for the circulatory system). However, after a session of MLD, lymph typically moves at 100-120 bpm for about 24-48 hours before returning to normal levels. This means that your lymphatic system can do what it does best at a faster rate, which gives your body lots of time to flush troubled areas with fresh lymph to speed healing, process retained fluid, and so much more.
As a general note, whether or not you see me, certification is important for knowing that the person you go to has the proper training to perform MLD effectively. Becoming a Certified Manual Lymph Drainage Therapist (CMLDT) means completing coursework that includes learning the functions of the lymphatic system and common dysfunctions, physical features of the lymphatic system and locations of lymph nodes and major pathways, hands-on technique mastery, technique modification according to condition, and contraindications. You can view my certification here.
What does the lymphatic system do?
The lymphatic system comprises of a network of capillary-like vessels that web through just about every tissue of the body, plus a surprising assortment of organs and tissues including the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and of course, lymph nodes. There are a lot of complexities in this system, so I'll just focus on the parts relevant to lymph drainage as a therapy.
This system is what collects excess fluid from all over the body, taking with it the cellular waste that results from normal cellular activity. However, it doesn't have a handy pump to keep things moving along like the heart does for the circulatory system. Instead, it relies on the movement of nearby contracting muscles to keep the lymph flowing. Usually this is taken care of in movement of everyday living, but when that isn't enough for one reason or another (blockage, too few lymph vessels in an area, to much or too little pressure on the vessels, and many more possibilities) the tissue can start to swell.
Lymph movement is crucial in the process of wound healing. You may be familiar with the yellowish crust of dried fluid that appears around a cut as it heals, or the clear liquid that fills a blister on a burn. Both are the lymphatic system delivering fluid and nutrients that help supply cells with what they need to build healthy tissue.
The lymphatic system is also a large part of the immune system and produces cells that fight infection. The lymph nodes are well known for swelling up when your body is fighting an illness. That’s because infection-fighters (lymphocytes) filter through the lymph fluid at the lymph nodes and seek out and destroy foreign bodies in order to prevent sickness or help you recover from it.
When all these pieces are working efficiently and in perfect harmony, you probably won’t even stop to think about your lymphatic system. When it doesn’t work quite as it should, the results can be uncomfortable or even painful, and that’s where the therapy of Manual Lymph Drainage comes in.
How does Manual Lymph Drainage work?
Since the lymphatic system needs pressure and/or movement in order to move lymph along, Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD for short) simply provides those two elements externally when your body cannot keep up on its own.
With a knowledge of lymph node locations and the direction and placement of larger lymph vessels (anastomosis), a practitioner can create alternating low and high pressure in an area to create a pumping effect that moves the lymph along. This is done by lightly moving and releasing the skin along critical pathways, which in turn creates the suction necessary to clear out the smaller vessels connected to it. Simple physics (siphons and capillary action) combined with knowledge of human anatomy make this a safe, effective, non-invasive way to help the lymphatic system do what it does best.
What will a session be like?
If you come for a lymph drainage session, we will begin with a brief consultation so I can get an understanding of what issue you are dealing with, and what area in particular you would like me to focus on. Next, you can decide whether you would like to leave your clothing on for your session or remove some (or all) of it in order to allow more direct access to the skin. Either is fine, but if you prefer to remain clothed, be sure to come in wearing soft, thin, nonrestrictive clothing (think workout attire). Once you are lying on the table cuddled under sheets and a blanket, I will start work at your neck (you probably already know there are plenty of lymph nodes there!) and you will feel the very light amount of pressure that I will be using for the duration of the session. I may need you to flip face-down or turn onto your side at some points during the session, but the pressure of the strokes will always be very gentle. People usually find this a wonderfully relaxing and soothing therapy. Don’t worry about falling asleep, it is completely fine if you do.
After the session is over, be aware that the movement of your lymph fluid will be increased over the next 24-48 hours. That is exactly the goal, but it often means that frequent trips to the bathroom may be necessary during that time as your kidneys and colon process the extra fluid so it can leave the body. This is totally normal, but it helps to know what to expect ahead of time.
What conditions can be helped with lymph drainage?
Whether it is sudden, localized edema (swollen feet from pregnancy), or chronic fluid retention (like in lymphedema,) lymph drainage helps maximize the movement of fluid so your body can “catch up” to the lymphatic load it hasn’t been able to process. When people are holding on to excess fluid, they may notice that they weigh less after a couple days because the weight of that liquid is gone. It is important to emphasize that if this is a chronic condition, the results will not be permanent. After a few days, lymph flow will slow to normal and fluid will start to pool again. However, the great advantage to using MLD is that with an appropriate treatment program, draining the lymph allows weeping wounds from lymphedema to heal and the affected limb to shrink down to a normal size. That size can then be maintained with a compression garment, and return treatments can be conducted as needed as you notice fluid beginning to build up again. The critical difference here is that instead of a large, swollen, painful limb being compressed by the garment prescribed by your doctor, the compression wear will help you maintain a more moveable, lighter, healthier limb.
Large swollen bags under the eyes
Enlarged lymph nodes
Swelling is a natural part of the healing process, and to a certain extent, it is a helpful response where the sends nourishing lymph to tissues that need to be rebuilt. However, swelling can go too far and cause incredible pain and discomfort. Sometimes, a swollen area may even not receive fresh lymph at the rate that it should because the pressure level inside the lymph vessels is too consistent across the area and so the lymph has no low-pressure area to easily flow toward.
Helping lymph movement after an injury or surgery ensures that fresh fluid gets to the area and doesn’t stagnate. Increasing the speed of lymph movement also decreases swelling, which in turn decreases discomfort from the wound. This can help speed and improve the healing process as undrained lymph fluid that is caught in the newly formed scar tissue can cause problems like scar lymphedema, but properly drained tissue will lie flat and knit together more smoothly.
Broken bone recovery
Rotator cuff surgery
What session length should I book?
Generally, I recommend the 30 minute session for localized or mild issues. For more severe problems or conditions that are more systemic (all over the body instead of just in one area), the 60 minute session would be the way to go. If if doubt, feel free to message me and I will be happy to direct you to the best session length for your needs.
For people with chronic issues that need frequent MLD sessions, check out my packages which offer you a way to save money, get regular lymph drainage, and learn self-care techniques for lymph drainage.
When should I NOT get lymph drainage?
Acute kidney failure and acute heart failure are absolute contraindications, which means anyone with either of these conditions should avoid lymph drainage in order to best maintain their health overall. Active infections are also contraindicated. Be sure to be clear of infection before getting lymph drainage done.
If the client in question is in need of palliative care, sometimes conditions that would otherwise be contraindications may still be treated with manual lymph drainage in the interest of comfort. For such cases, I will require documentation that they are on palliative or hospice care and may need approval from their doctor before beginning. This can be done by calling the doctor and requesting approval for MLD treatment and bringing in said document to your first session.
If you are unsure whether or not lymph drainage would be safe or beneficial for your condition(s), give your doctor a call and have them determine whether or not this treatment is suitable for you. If it is, have them send you a record of their approval so we can dive right in to your sessions when you come.