What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)?

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a form of manual therapy very different to other massage styles and is designed to activate and encourage the flow of lymph throughout the body. 

MLD focuses solely on the lymphatic system and connective tissue immediately below the skin and does not penetrate to the deeper muscular level like a typical remedial massage.  Approximately 75% of the body’s lymph fluid sits just below the skin above the muscle, the remaining amount is deep lymphatic system.

MLD utilises very light pressure combined with specific technique direction, timing & flow to encourage the flow of lymph around the body.  

What is the lymphatic system?


Quite basically, the lymphatic system works with the cardiovascular system to ensure all the body’s tissues get what they need and get rid of what they don’t need.

The cardiovascular (heart) system pumps oxygen and protein rich blood to the tissues and organs.  Most people naturally ‘leak’ fluid into the tissues from the blood capillaries through their processes.  About 90% of this leaked fluid is taken back through cardiovascular system via the veins.  But the other 10% is a fluid component that ‘leaks’ out into the tissues through the very tiny blood vessels.  This fluid contains things too big to get back into the veins such as protein, cell debris, bacteria, viruses and fats.

This is where the lymphatic system takes over.  Through its vast network, it ‘mops’ up this excess fluid, cleans it and moves it back into the cardiovascular system.  

What is lymph?

Lymph is a clear watery fluid which contains recovered fluid from the body containing protein, cells, fats and foreign cells & chemicals from tissues.


Does the Lymphatic system do anything else?

The lymphatic system has a few primary functions:

  • Assists with fluid recovery: as described above, it mops up the excess fluid and returns it to the cardiovascular system. 
  • Immunity & Detoxing:  Lymph collects foreign cells from the body, chemicals from the tissues, bacteria and viruses.  As it passes through the lymphatic system it triggers an immune response in the lymph nodes, and white blood cells are activated to consume the foreign matter. 
  • Dietary lipid (fat) absorption in the small intestine.


How does the lymphatic system flow?

They lymphatic system has no pump, it relies on internal one-way valves, skeletal muscle movement, arteries pulsing, and respiratory movements to move the fluid.  It is continuously moving throughout our body cleaning the excess fluid to make it safe to re-enter the blood stream.


How does MLD affect the body?

Manual Lymphatic Drainage:

  • Stimulates the lymphatic system to absorb and transport lymph more efficiently to improve tissue health
  • Assists with detoxification (i.e. the removal of waste from the tissues)
  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Stimulates our nervous system to produce the calming relaxation response
  • Stimulates formation of new lymph tissue to transport lymph
  • Can be used in cases where remedial massage is contraindicated (i.e. not possible)


What conditions can MLD help with?

MLD is great for:

  • Headaches, tension and migraine
  • Strains and sprains
  • Soft tissue damage
  • Post sporting event
  • Bruising (within a muscle and between muscles)
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Oedema during pregnancy in some cases
  • Lymphoedema (prevention and management)
  • Lipodema
  • Oedema reduction
  • Sinusitis / hay fever
  • Pain relief
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Pre- & post-surgery
  • Scar reduction


What to expect in an MLD treatment

An MLD treatment is very different to remedial massage.  It is important to understand we are only activating the system that is just below the surface of the skin.  If too much pressure is applied we ‘squash’ the lymphatics which are sluggish to recover and you lose the benefit of the MLD treatment. 

You will lie face up on the massage table, and we perform the MLD techniques to the chest, abdomen, arms, legs and face.  You are fully draped at all times, with extra precaution taken for women with draping and techniques so your breasts are fully covered at all times. 

The pressure applied is quite light – about the same pressure you would use to roll a raw egg on a bench.  Most people feel quite sleepy and relaxed during the treatment, and afterwards comment on feeling ‘lighter’ or ‘less heavy’ in the areas worked.  You may find you need to frequent the toilet more, and it is important to drink plenty of water after the treatment as per a remedial massage.


Can you receive a massage and MLD treatment in the same treatment?

It is best not to perform a remedial massage treatment on the same area we will apply MLD, because the deeper pressure required to reach the muscles means the lymphatic vessels just below the skin will be ‘squashed’.  Don’t worry they recover quite easily but may take a few extra minutes, or longer for some, to recover. Therefore, an MLD treatment will be ineffective on the same area that has just been massaged. 

In saying that, you receive an MLD treatment lying face up.  if you have tension in your back, we can perform a massage treatment to your back before we start MLD as we will not be working in the same area.  A lot of clients with oedema complain of tension around the shoulder blades and we can effectively work those muscles and not impact the lymphatic vessels we treat when you lie face up