Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) specifically works on your lymphatic system. “But what is the lymphatic system?” I hear you ask!
Our lymphatic system is one of the many major systems in our bodies. Other systems include our digestive system, nervous system, and circulatory (blood) system.
A Cleaning System
Our lymphatic system is linked, yet separate from, our circulatory system. Both are composed of vessels that go from small to large. The lymphatic system takes up fluid left behind by the circulatory system as it delivers nutrients to our cells and then returns that fluid back to the circulatory system.
The cells of our bodies take the nutrients from the blood and produce cellular wastes, debris, or leftover unnecessary materials. Our blood is able to take away some of these products, but not all. Our lymphatic system is tasked with mopping up the rest so that it doesn’t hang around and build up in our tissues. Some of these things can become toxic if they accumulate too much.
A Defence System
Our lymphatic system is also active during infections by mopping up all the invaders killed by our immune systems and all the chemicals that invading bacteria might produce, and forcing them through the lymphatic vessels which are full of our immune cell army. So the lymphatic system also forms a crucial part of our immune system defences.
A Nutrient Transport System
Additionally, our lymphatics also carry dietary fats and many fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K) from our intestines to our bloodstreams.
If our lymphatic system is unable to move the fluid inside it (called “lymph”) efficiently then we may develop swelling or oedema. In some cases, we may develop skin rashes, particularly rashes that seem to come up from under the skin in our lower body.
It might also become more difficult to digest food (especially fats, be they good fats or bad ones), as well as shake off infections or coughs & colds.
MLD can help.
It is amazing how a method so gentle can be so effective.
Manual lymphatic drainage supports immune function, encourages stubborn digestion, assists with skin rashes, and reduces swelling of the limbs, abdomen, or face.
People who get lymphatic drainage massage often report feelings of lightness, reduced stress, and increased relaxation. In some cases, they need to jump off the table partway through the treatment to rush to the bathroom as it can stimulate bowel and urinary function!
What Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage Not Good For?
Rashes that look like flaky skin will usually not get much help from MLD. These tend to be due to skin pH imbalances, and MLD cannot change the acidity or alkalinity of your skin. Talk to a nutritionist or naturopath if this is an issue for you.
Some kinds of swelling also won’t respond well. In particular, hormonal changes during menopause can have varying effects—sometimes MLD works amazingly to reduce skin puffiness, but sometimes it doesn’t do anything at all. It’s worth a try, but there are no promises!
The good news is that MLD is highly unlikely to do you any harm. So there is no reason to worry that it could make things worse. The most horrible thing that could happen after an MLD massage is you might have to deeply relax yourself for an hour or so!
How Does MLD Work?
Manual lymphatic drainage works by assisting the movement of fluid into and along our lymphatic vessels towards collection areas called lymph nodes.
These major collection areas are located behind your knees, in your groin, around your intestines, in your armpits, and in your neck. For women, there is also a large number in breast tissue. (These nodes sometimes get infected—the dreaded “mastitis.”)
To assist lymph movement we have you take some deep breaths during the massage. This changes the internal pressure of your chest cavity. As you breathe out the internal pressure drops, which helps to suck lymph fluid through the vessels and into your bloodstream. From there, your heart can use more force to pump it through your liver and kidneys for cleaning and purification.
What Does MLD Feel Like?
Lymphatic drainage massage is very gentle. It is mainly lots of soft broad0handed stroking of the surface of the skin to move fluid towards lymph nodes. It does not aim to treat muscles.
From time to time, when fluid is beginning to move towards the nodes, the practitioner will gently “pump” the nodes to encourage lymph to move into and through them. Generally, this is the sequence throughout the treatment—move towards the nodes, take some deep breaths, then pump the nodes to clear them. Move towards the nodes, take some deep breaths, then pump the nodes to clear them. Repeat for as long as necessary.
The trick is in getting the pressure of the stroking right. If the pressure is too much, it actually has the opposite effect: the pressure closes the lymphatic vessel openings, and they are unable to take up the fluid from surrounding tissues. So getting the pressure juuuuust right is crucial.
What Happens During a Lymphatic Drainage Massage Appointment?
You are welcome to have a support person present with you for the duration of your treatment if that will help you feel comfortable.
Since we may be working at a few points around your groin (never genitals) and breast areas, having a support person with you is actually my preference. We can work on these areas through towels or sheets, you don’t have to be uncovered.
When you arrive for your appointment I will explain more about how your lymphatic system works, because I believe that your knowledge and awareness helps to be able to visualise what is taking place in your body. I think this conscious awareness actually helps your body to move the fluid better.
To read more about the lymphatic system and how it works, check out the Australian Lymphology Association website.