What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)?
Manual lymphatic drainage (or MLD) is a specialised massage technique that stimulates the flow of fluid in the lymphatic system and helps to reduce swelling by moving fluid from swollen areas into working lymph nodes and vessels, where it can be drained. It should not be confused with a traditional massage that you may receive at a spa. MLD is specifically focused on the lymph vessels to help the flow of lymphatic fluid. This gentle, skin-stretching massage is one of the key elements of Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy.
How does Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) work?
The objective of MLD is to move the fluid out of the swollen area to an area that is draining well – known as ‘decongesting’. To achieve this, MLD is first applied to the unaffected area (the area that is draining well) to open up the still functioning lymph collectors. This allows the fluid from the swollen area to be collected and helps speed up lymph fluid flow through the lymphatics. MLD is then carried out on the swollen area using a gentle, rhythmic pumping motion to move the skin in the direction of the lymph flow. Skin tissue changes in swollen areas can produce hardened connective tissue. MLD can breakdown this tissue also allowing more fluid to be drained away from the swollen area. MLD is often perceived as offering ‘relief’ and good results can be achieved in a short time-frame.
Deep breathing techniques call diaphragmatic breathing are usually done at the beginning and end of an MLD session. Breathing helps open the deep-seated lymphatic pathways. In fact, laughter naturally causes diaphragmatic breathing as the diaphragm flutters up and down at a very quick rate. This generates pressure against the lymphatic system and helps move fluid. It can also help relieve stress, anxiety and even depression. So, laughing is good for you!
Who can perform Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)?
A certified lymphoedema therapist who has been specially trained in one of the recognised MLD techniques should only perform this therapy. There are medical reasons (known as ‘contraindications’) why MLD may not be suitable for all those suffering from lymphoedema. It is therefore important that you seek medical advice before commencing any MLD treatment.
What is Simple Lymphatic Drainage (SLD)?
In the long-term management phase of lymphoedema treatment, MLD may be replaced with simple lymphatic drainage (sometimes known as self-lymphatic drainage) or may continue alongside MLD therapy. SLD is a gentle massage technique that is based on the principles of MLD. It involves the use of simple hand movements to try and move the swelling out of the affected area. It is designed to be carried out by patients themselves - or their relatives or carers.