Manual lymph drainage is a type of light massage that uses gentle strokes (almost as light as a butterfly caress) on the skin, since the lymph vessels are right underneath the surface. The lymphatic system works with the immune system to help cleanse the body and stave off infections. Lymph originates in the spaces between the cells, consisting of interstitial fluid and waste products from cellular activities. The fluid flows to the more than 600 lymph nodes of the body for processing. The nodes filter bacteria, dead cells, along with other toxins and they also produce white blood cells. The lymphatic organs of the body, such as the thymus gland, spleen, tonsils and lymphocytes support important immunological functions. If the lymph system slows down or backs up, excess fluid may cause swelling called lymphedema, a potentially serious complication.
Manual Lymph Drainage was started in the 1930s by Dr. Emil Vodder working with his wife, Estrid, in Europe. They were both massage therapists. Many of their clients had colds and a common denominator was swollen lymph glands in their necks. The Vodders began systematically working on the nodes with success, the swelling dispersed and the colds were alleviated. Vodder was the first to coin "manual lymph drainage" and is considered the originator of the practice. His first publication appeared in Paris in 1936. He and his wife gave lectures, demonstration treatments and taught courses. Since then two other approaches to “MLD” have come about. One type was formed by an osteopathic physician, Eyal Leaderman; another style is taught through the Upledger Institute in Florida by Bruno Chickly.
Lymphatic massage helps keep the system working properly and combined with water intake makes for an effective detoxifier. MLD has an effect on the body as a whole and sessions impact can be similar to deeper kinds of massage. Quicker transport of waste and faster processing helps keep the body on guard. People have found MLD useful for inflammation, recent injuries such as an ankle sprain, sinus problems and congestive conditions. Lymph passages can be damaged and swell after surgical operations.
A mastectomy after breast cancer, where some breast tissue and the lymph nodes under the arms are removed, is one of the most common causes of lymphedema. Up to 15 percent of women are likely to get scar tissue that stalls the lymphatic flow. According to the National Lymphedema Network, a risk of lymphedema is present anywhere from hours to decades after the procedures.
Medical professionals practicing MLD are physical therapists and occupational therapists along with their assistants, massage therapists, aestheticians, nurses and medical doctors. In conjunction with MLD, compression garments, bandaging, diet control, skin care, and condition-appropriate exercise are used. Some contraindications are congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or kidney dialysis unless specifically ordered by a physician. It is vitally important that if you are having problems with lymphadema that you consult with a qualified professional who has training in lymph drainage.