If you've ever felt your lymph nodes swollen in your neck, armpits, or groin, you have felt the effects of your body fighting an infection or trying to neutralize a foreign substance. Those lymph nodes are only a small portion of an entire body system designed to protect against larger and more widespread infections and flush waste and debris out!
This system is known as the lymphatic system, which helps get rid of toxins and waste in the body by transporting lymph (a fluid containing white blood cells) all over through a network of vessels and ducts. A poorly functioning lymphatic system can leave you feeling tired, achy, and bloated, and could even lead to serious conditions. However, there are ways to stimulate lymph movement, one of them being manual lymphatic drainage.
What Is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) uses a gentle, rhythmic application of specific stretches and touches to the skin to help move fluid in the body into and through the lymphatic system. This is not the same as traditional massage as this method is solely focused on the lymphatic vessels and uses directed pressure to assist the movement of the fluid toward the central core of the body and eventually back into the body's blood circulation. The goal is to relieve congestion in the lymphatic system to allow the body to restore health and balance, and this type of massage is often used as a preventative and postoperative treatment. Our body’s lymphatic system helps to regulate our fluid balance and also houses our body’s immune system. Keeping our lymphatic system operating well allows for optimal health and wellness.
How Does Manual Lymphatic Drainage Work?
MLD is a light-touch soft tissue treatment approach that aims to move fluid from the interstitial spaces into the lymphatic system so that the body can function properly. This is a decongestion process, as the lymph is moved throughout the body to encourage drainage of the affected areas. Manual lymphatic drainage is a gentle process that stays near the surface of the skin, unlike deep tissue massage, which works firm pressure into the tissue and muscles. This method can be especially helpful in recovering from a surgical procedure when there is substantial swelling that can impact the healing and recovery process.
Conditions That Manual Lymphatic Drainage Can Address
If you have any of these conditions, you are an ideal candidate for manual lymphatic drainage, as it can be very beneficial in your recovery.
Post-surgical orthopedic swelling (ie, total knee replacement, rotator cuff repair, carpal tunnel release)
Chronic lymphedema and lipedema
Migraines and headaches
Edema management following plastic surgery including breast augmentation, Brazilian butt lift, mastectomy for gender re-assignment surgery
Complex regional pain syndrome
Seasonal allergies & hay fever
What Are the Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
Manual lymphatic drainage can help to improve the movement of fluid through the body and increase the body's immune function. MLD can help decrease post-surgical pain and lower the need for pain medications by decreasing the pressure on sensitive nerve endings and pain receptors near the surgical area. It can also increase recovery by boosting the immune system, minimizing scarring, preventing fibrosis, and reducing bruising and swelling.
Both orthopedic and cosmetic surgical procedures can produce pain, swelling, movement limitations, and edema, as surgery can interfere with lymphatic pathways. Recovery can be a long process, but MLD can drain the extra fluid surrounding the surgical site after a procedure, speeding up recovery, increasing the range of motion, and reducing pain.
Boosts the immune system
Massage therapy on its own increases circulation and blood flow, but the specialized process of lymphatic drainage focuses entirely on moving white blood cells to specific areas that need it, to restore health and function.
After a surgical procedure, scars will likely be left behind, but the key to minimizing their appearance is through massage therapy. Manual lymphatic drainage does a great job of breaking up fibrous tissue and encouraging the regeneration of cells to reduce the visibility of the scar and make the skin more elastic.
Swelling is caused by an infection or inflammation, and the lymphatic system's job is to flush out the toxins that contribute to that. Activating the lymphatic system with massage speeds up the process and aids in relief.
Interested in Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
Our lymphedema therapists have been trained in maximizing the efficiency of the lymphatic system, from addressing post-surgical swelling to a long-standing diagnosis of Lymphedema. If you're interested in manual lymphatic drainage and its benefits, click the button below to book a massage!
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Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP, BFRC, is a Nationally Certified Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist and has been a part of the healthcare field since 2002. She is the Director of Massage & Wellness here at Rehab United, specializing in Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Prenatal Massage. Erynne has extensive knowledge of both massage and physiology, even receiving her Master's degree in Exercise Physiology from San Diego State University.