Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), also known as lymphatic massage or lymphatic drainage, is a gentle massage modality that addresses a build up of lymph fluid in the extremities. This condition, called lymphedema, is caused by blockages in the lymphatic system. It’s often a side effect of cancer treatment, lymph node removal, infection in the lymph nodes, or pregnancy. Its first stage has a classic presentation called ‘pitted edema.’ If you press your finger into the affected area, it will live a temporary ‘pit’ instead of bouncing back. Its most severe stages, cause the effected limb to look engorged and leathery.
In a healthy body, contractions of lymph vessels and the movement of skeletal muscles circulates lymph, moving immune cells and collecting waste products. Lymph is swept to the lymph nodes and drains into the circulatory system for the body to process. The goal of MLD is to encourage the natural flow to lymph toward the lymph nodes and reduce fluid buildup.
Lymph massage can benefit just about everyone. If you're feeling tired and low on energy, or if you've been sick and feeling like your body is fighting to get back on track, lymph massage would likely serve you well.
In addition, athletes, surgical patients, fibromyaliga and chronic fatigue sufferers, as well as those wanting a fresh look may want to consider lymphatic massage. Here's why.
After a sports injury or surgery, lymph vessels can become overwhelmed with the demand placed on them. When tissues are swollen, deep tissue techniques may actually cause damage to the lymph vessels and surrounding structures. Lymphatic massage is often the treatment of choice, because it helps the body remove proteins and waste products from the affected area and reduce the swelling. This helps reduce pressure on cells and allows them to reproduce faster to heal the body.
Surgical procedures involving lymph node removal--such as breast cancer surgery--can cause limbs to swell. Severe limb swelling needs the attention of a medical team, but in milder cases, lymphatic massage alone may be enough to prevent or even treat the swelling. It’s important that your doctor be involved in your care. Let your doctor know you’d like to see a massage therapist and make sure you have medical approval.
Lymph massage can also be part of a care program for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Because it's so gentle, it is well tolerated by these patients, who are often experiencing sore trigger points throughout the body. And by encouraging lymph flow and removing waste products, this gentle form of bodywork can help restore immune function and improve vitality.
Estheticians are trained in a very specific form of lymphatic massage. When you get a facial, your esthetician will gently massage your face to help improve lymph flow. When lymph is moving freely in the face, you’ll have clearer, healthier skin without a buildup of toxins and fluids.
So, if you’re feeling a bit sluggish, experiencing mild to moderate swelling, recovering from a sports injury, or interested in optimizing your lymph system for stronger immunity, ask your massage therapist about lymphatic massage. It can have a powerful impact on your body’s ability to heal.