Lymphatic Drainage

The lymph system in our bodies cleanses and removes toxic fluids. For many reasons, our lymph system may not be working optimally, or our lymph system may be slowed or overtaxed. Acute injury, lymph node removal, trauma to the body, recent surgery, and autoimmune conditions are some things that can affect the effectiveness of our lymph system. 

We feel healthy and energized when our lymph system is operating optimally.

2 minute video about the lymph system

The Science

An article by the American Massage Therapy Association tells us: “In simplest terms, the lymphatic system is a network of vessels, nodes and organs that work as part of the immune system to carry lymph fluid that is rich in infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body, while also helping rid the body of waste and excess fluid. In addition to the nodes and vessels, the tonsils, thymus and spleen are all part of the lymphatic system.

Via the circulatory system, blood delivers oxygen, nutrients and hormones to cells and also collects waste. This exchange takes place in the interstitial fluid surrounding the cells. About 90 percent of this interstitial fluid returns to the circulatory system as venous blood. That last 10 percent is lymph fluid, which travels through the body via lymph vessels, passing through lymph nodes, where excess fluid and waste products are filtered out. Here, too, lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells) kill pathogens that might be present.

Lymph can only move in one direction—upward, toward the neck, where it reenters the circulatory system via the subclavian veins. And unlike blood in the circulatory system, which relies on the heart pumping, lymph fluid depends on muscle contractions in the surrounding skeletal muscles to move through the lymphatic vessels.” 



Reasons You Would Consider Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Some conditions MLD may be helpful for include Lymphedema, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Autoimmune Diseases, Pre-Surgery, Post-Surgery and Lymph Node Removal. Many doctors are recommending MLD after liposuction and plastic surgery.

MLD is known for reducing stiffness and pain, supporting the sympathetic nervous system to decrease stress and anxiety, and boosting the immune system.

Oftentimes, drooping skin is caused by a slowed lymph system. Many people are enjoying the benefits of facial MLD for more radiant, younger looking, tighter skin.

Pre-Surgery- Receiving 3-5 sessions two weeks before your surgery may drastically improve your post-surgery symptoms. Many people have reported minimal bruising and much faster healing times. The reason for this is because your lymph system is responsible for bringing your body back to normal after a surgery and clearing out your lymph system before a surgery ensures that your body is ready to handle the challenges of your upcoming surgery. 

Post-Surgery- Always ask your doctor when it is safe for you to begin MLD sessions. After your doctor has cleared you and you have no sign of infection, MLD can reduce your post-surgery swelling and bruising, reduce inflammation, drain excess fluid, reduce appearance of scars, improve your immune response to decrease your risk of infection, decrease scarring and the build-up of fibrotic nodules (hard lumps), and decrease pain.


What to Expect

MLD is a gentle, pain-free, relaxing treatment that is very different from traditional massage. The strokes are soft, slow and feel like a bit of a skin stretch. Since lymph vessels are located very close to the skin, it is imperative that the therapist not place too much pressure on the skin in order to not push past the lymph vessels or flatten them.

After removing your clothing, you will lie on a warm massage table, covered with a drape. Any compression garments given by your doctor will not be removed. The therapist may use a bit of water to keep from slipping on your skin. Using gentle, rhythmic motions, the therapist will move the lymph to aid drainage.

The therapist will clear the main drains and then move your lymphatic fluid toward your lymph nodes for reabsorption.

April’s 11 second video demonstration of the Skin Stretch Technique used to move the lymph

Before and After Photos – Effects of MLD Treatments

The person in the first picture did not have any pre or post op MLD sessions.
The person in the second picture had the recommended five sessions before and five sessions after!

Before MLD. After 4 sessions.

Before & after effects of Manual Lymph Drainage after just 2 sessions by Eric Raldiris, OTR/L, LMT.

First photo shows someone who received liposuction without pre or post op MLD.
Second photo is the same person, one month later, after prescribed MLD.

Contraindications

You should not receive an MLD session if you have a heart condition, kidney failure, blood clots or an infection. It is always important to note that any type of massage is not intended to treat disease. Always discuss your health concerns with your doctor.


How Many Sessions

60-minute sessions are recommended, as there is sufficient time to treat the whole body. Every body is different, so depending on your specific needs, you may want to schedule three sessions per week for a few weeks before reducing your frequency to once per week until you have achieved your desired results. Maintenance sessions may be performed monthly.

Pre-Op and Post-Op MLD Protocol
Pre-Op recommendation is to schedule 3-5 consecutive 60-minute sessions the week before surgery. This prepares the body for surgery while all the lymph vessels are still intact.
Post-Op recommendation is to schedule 5 consecutive 60-minute sessions after the post-surgery follow-up appointment with your doctor. The purpose for these visits is to reduce swelling, pain, bruising and scars.


Before Your Session

Be sure you are receiving MLD from a trained professional.

Please do not apply any moisturizer or lotion to your body before your session as this can hinder gentle skin-stretching technique. Be sure to drink lots of extra water during the 24 hours prior to your MLD session. Do not eat a heavy meal before coming in. Always use the restroom immediately before the session, but keep in mind, it’s normal to need to use the restroom mid-session. 

After Your Session

Plan for extra rest for the remainder of the day, if possible. Continue drinking lots of water and continue wearing your compression garments as directed by your doctor. The day after your session, plan on a gentle walk (or other gentle exercise) to keep your lymph system moving. Also, be sure to ask your therapist about techniques you can do at home to support the work being done in the clinic. Congratulations! Your lymph movement has increased by 10x its normal speed. This will last approximately 48 hours.

-Author, Amy B. Kimball

All photos are used with permission from the MLD Institute and linked to their place of origin. All quotes can be found on the MLD Institute International FB Page.