Manual lymphatic drainage, or MLD, is a form of manual therapy that targets the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of organs, ducts, nodes and vessels that protect you from infection and keep a healthy balance of fluids throughout your body, absorbs fats from the digestive tract, and provides immune defense.
Normally, the natural action of muscles in the body facilitates this fluid flow, however, surgery, medical conditions and other damage can interrupt it and cause fluid to build up in the tissues. Manual lymphatic drainage targets the lymphatic system using gently rhythmic stretching of the skin to encourage excess fluid to enter the lymphatic vessels.
Initially developed for individuals with Lymphedema, a condition resulting from damage to the lymphatic system, MLD is also effective in reducing fluid build-up and pain associated with
various other conditions including:
Chronic venous insufficiency
Swelling/edema due to acute/chronic injuries
Lymphatic drainage is also beneficial to reduce fluid in legs due to pregnancy or after a long flight.
What is it?
A manual lymphatic drainage treatment is very similar to a that of a massage therapy treatment but with some key differences: no oil is used, pressure is (almost) always very light, and all clothing must be removed, including underwear. Treatments are done in a massage room with relaxing music.
During a session the skin is gently stretched, tugging on the lymphatic vessel underneath, allowing excess fluid from the surrounding tissue to enter the vessel and drain away, eventually filtering it through the lymph nodes. Some clients show an immediate improvement, showing a decreased size of the affected area while chronic conditions require more intensive sessions over time.
Every body responds differently to lymphatic drainage. Most clients report feeling relaxed and sleeping very well the night after their treatment. A small proportion of individuals may have a stronger response and experience some side-effects such as headache, nausea, body ache, diarrhea or skin rash.
What Happens During a Treatment and How You Will Feel After
How many treatments will you need? This will depend on the reason for receiving treatment. Some conditions, such as Lymphedema, require a specific treatment regimen (see sections on Lymphedema and CDT).
Post-surgical clients should expect to receive treatment once per week for 3-4 weeks, then every 2 weeks for 4 weeks.
Lymphedema treatment is explained in the next section.
If you are coming for reasons other than these please schedule an appointment once per week for 3 weeks. This will allow time for you and your therapist to determine how you are responding to the therapy and how to proceed.
How many treatments will I need?
Dana graduated from Mount Royal College Institute of Massage Therapy in 1998 and the Massage Therapy College of Manitoba in 2002. In 2008 she completed a Bachelor of Kinesiology from the University of Manitoba and has completed additional therapeutic training in Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Craniosacral Therapy, Myofascial Cupping and Prenatal Massage.
Over the years Dana has worked in a variety of environments in both Canada and the Caribbean. Dana is focused on creating a practice that builds on her broad base of knowledge, training and experience.
RMT, Decongestive Therapy, and MLD
Lymphedema is a build-up of protein-rich fluid (lymph) that is normally drained through the lymphatic system, commonly affecting the arms or legs, and sometimes the chest wall, abdomen, neck and genitals. In particular, cancer treatments that remove or damage lymph nodes, blocking the drainage of fluid, can lead to lymphedema. Severe cases can affect a person’s ability to move the limb, increase the risk of skin infections and lead to skin changes and breakdown.
Symptoms of lymphedema can be managed using a treatment approach called Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT). CDT is a combination of manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging and garments, skin care and exercises. Treatment typically begins with an initial intense (reductive) phase to bring it under control, during which a therapist is seen 5 days per week over the course of 3 to 8 weeks, followed by an ongoing maintenance phase.
What is Lymphedema?
Developed as a treatment for post-mastectomy lymphedema, Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is a combination of manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging and garments and exercise. A trained therapist manages the treatment in two phases – a reductive phase and a maintenance phase.
The initial reductive phase is aimed at getting the extra fluid out of the limb and other affected areas. This is an intense period of treatment when therapy is received 5 days per week for 3 to 8 weeks with compression bandages worn around the clock, removing them only for showering and MLD treatments. Your therapist will teach you how to apply the bandages yourself and how to do the exercises.
The maintenance phase is about maintaining the reduction of fluid on your own. Being fitted for and wearing a compression garment, exercise and regular maintenance treatments are important components of your ongoing care.
Compression bandages/garments should be used to reduce excess fluid due to:
Chronic venous insufficiency
Deep vein thrombosis
Congestive heart failure
Leg ulcers and wounds