What is Manual Lymph Drainage?

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What is Manual Lymph Drainage?

What is this thing you call Manual Lymph Drainage?

So conversation generally starts out with

“So what is it you do? ”

I answer Manual Lymph Drainage or MLD

They ask “What’s that then?”

And now the eyes take on a glazed look as I try to start explaining it. It not easy to explain in one sentence.

Why is this?

There are a few reasons I feel.

One is the name of the treatment it sounds like you have pipes lurching somewhere in the background and you use them to drain maybe the life out of people.

The “Manual” bit makes it appear as if its going to hurt or be very uncomfortable which it is not.

While the lymph system is very poorly understood by both healthcare staff and the general population. I too had very poor knowledge about the lymphatic system before I trained to be a lymph drainage therapist. Have a read about this at http://goo.gl/RfWBE4

So let’s start at the very beginning… What is your lymphatic system

Our lymphatic system covers our whole body and the initial vessels lie just under our skin. Theses vessels are finger shaped projections that are only one cell thick and are attached to by anchoring filaments to basal membranes. The role of these vessels are to collect the lymph obligatory load (LOL) which is fluid that is not utilised by the connective tissue. In this fluid is metabolic waste and nutrients which is not used by the tissues. This is then transported into the pre-collector and the collector vessels of the lymphatic system. The fluid then passes through the lymph nodes who’s role it is to filtrate the fluid, store inorganic substances while playing a role in the immune system. B-lymphocytes, T-lymphocytes as well a macrophages are stored in the lymph nodes and are activated when bacteria or viruses invade the body. There are approximately 600-880 lymph nodes in our bodies and these can vary in size. From here the lymph fluid travels through the deeper lymph vessels. The main deeper lymph vessels are the Thoracic Duct and the Right Lymphatic Duct. The role of these vessels is to transport lymph fluid to be drained back into the venous system.

Lymphatic System doesn’t have its own pump

The lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump however the body is equipped with ways and means of assisting this. The vessels are located beside the venous and arterial system of the body and so use the pulsation of this system to function. While muscle contraction and peristalsis  aids in the pulsation frequency of the lymphatic system. It is estimated that approximately half the amount of lymph in our system is formed  in the abdomen.  Gravity is also a factor so not staying stationery in one position for too long is important. And finally deep breathing is essential. The Thoracic Duct passes up through the diagram so when we breathe deeply we create a suction like affect this allows for the drainage of lymph fluid from the legs and abdomen.

Function of the lymphatic system

The lymphatic system is often referred to as the secondary circulatory system within our bodies. It transports protein and long chain fatty acids. Long chain fatty acids are absorbed for the intestinal system and transported into the venous system as they are too large to enter this system on their own. When the lymphatic system is not functioning properly due to many different reasons, protein can lie in the tissue. Protein then attracts water and this can be a reason why the tissues become swollen or oedematous such as swollen legs and ankles.

Its role in the immune system is again one of transportation. Antigens or foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses  are brought to the lymph nodes where they elicit an immune response, through activating the B and T lymphocytes and macrophages which are resident in the nodes. These then travel from the lymph nodes out through the lymph system and venous system to act as a control for any other antigens that are in the body.

This system is the cleansing component of our bodies. It transports vital nutrients and substances, hormones, cytokines and enzymes to cells and tissues where they are needed. It then clears these areas of metabolic waste and transports it back into circulation to be disposed of natural from the body.

Ok, but back to the topic – What is Manual Lymph Drainage?

It is a very gentle skin technique, used to increase the rate and flow of the lymphatic system. The therapist works on the skin using slow rhythmic repetitive techniques which should never inflect any pain or make the skin become red. The reason why it is so gentle is due to where the initial lymph vessels lie, just under the skin. The pressure has to be light as too much pressure will actually result in the vessels not being able to work, remember they are only one cell thick.   By working on the skin,  the anchoring filaments move which results in opening the vessels and drainage of lymph fluid.

The body has different watersheds which delineate skin territories. This is important in relation to lymph flow as each watershed drains to relevant lymph nodes. MLD encourages lymph fluid to drain in its own natural pathways or territories. However, these watersheds can become damaged and an example of this is when a person has lymph nodes removed due to a cancer diagnosis such as breast cancer. We now say that this watershed or territory is not intact as it is unable to drain into its relevant nodes. This intact system can result in lymphoedema, a lifelong condition that occurs when lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid from the affected area. This results in the protein sitting in the tissues and attracting water with the end result being swelling or lymphoedema. A MLD therapist has to work using a modified technique as the system is now damaged and an alternative pathway is needed to drain lymph fluid. Anatomies or opening between the territories can be opened and this results in a new pathway for the lymph fluid to be transported. Protein is now returned back into circulation and the water follows, thus the area becomes less oedematous.

As mentioned previously it doesn’t have its own pump and from time to time our lymph system can become sluggish. When it occurs harmful substances can build up in our bodies. This can result in symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, acnes, pain and inflammation to occur. Using MLD we can kick-start the lymphatic system and increase its rate and flow. This will result in the elimination of these harmful substances and reduction in health issues.

MLD as a treatment for

These are just some areas that MLD can be used as a treatment for.

  • Detox by aiding digestion and alleviating constipation
  • Promote wound healing and improve appearances of scars
  • Bruising and swelling due to trauma
  • Reducing pain
  • Stress related illness
  • Encourage relaxation and improve the quality of sleep
  • Alleviate sinusitis, acne, acne rosacea, cellulite
  • Reduction of oedema due to….
    • Arthritis
    • Reduced mobility
    • Pregnancy
    • Lymphoedema


Should you have any questions or need further information about MLD, its uses, the benefits or would like to have a treatment do get in touch.

Here’s a short video on what is the lymphatic system and how do we support it. http://goo.gl/sJFe7P





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