Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapy
What is MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) massage?
MLD is a specialized form of massage that moves the lymphatic fluid back into the circulatory system.
- Helps post traumatic edema: sports injuries, bruising, whiplash, sprains, tinnitus, and migraine headaches.
- Has an analgesic component and pain blocking effect while being deeply relaxing so it’s also indicated for chronic pain syndromes (chronic fatigue syndrome) and autoimmune disorders (fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis).
- Helps to move the fluid if you’ve had any change to your lymphatic system, such as node(s) removed due to cancer or compromised from radiation.
- Used as a treatment for post-surgical swelling and scar reduction.
- Is gentle and light (1-2 on a pressure scale of 5 being very deep). Extremely soothing and calming.
- Requires additional training and certification to perform.*
What does the lymphatic system do?
The lymph system moves metabolic proteins, fat, water, and large molecules between cells back to the cardiovascular system. This fluid is a protein-rich micro filtrate of our blood plasma. Unlike the heart muscle pumping blood (7000 liters daily) around the body, the lymph system (2.5 liters daily) uses no pump. The fluid moves one way via pressure drops along lymph capillaries in conjunction with blood capillaries. Exercising is the best way to move lymph fluid. Using a rebounder regularly may be excellent too.
What makes up the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is made up of lymph nodes, lymph vessels, thymus, spleen, lymphocytes, peyers patches (in the small intestine), and tonsils. The largest well of lymph is in a reservoir located in front of our lumbar spine called the cisterna chyle which drains directly into the left thoracic duct (the hollow above the left clavicle). In fact, 3/4 of the lymph in the body returns to the cardio system via the left thoracic duct. The remaining 1/4 drains into the right subclavian vein.
About lymph nodes
We have between 600-700 lymph nodes in our bodies. Most nodes are in the abdomen but many are also in the head, neck, armpits, and groin areas. You cannot feel most of your nodes because they are in fatty tissue. If you are very lean, occasionally a node can be palpated in the groin area. In general, if you can feel a node for more than 60 days, the medical community suspects it for pathology. Lymph nodes are mini refining stations. Each node isolates and breaks down dead cells, cancer cells, bacteria, microbes, and any foreign cells from further progressing.
Lymph nodes have 3 purposes:
- Recycle and refine to ensure bacteria and malignant cells don’t progress.
- Produce or trigger lymphocytes, white blood cells. Important to fight infection.
- Regulate the protein/water concentration in the lymph fluid. This protein from metabolic waste processing (not dietary protein) is what sets lymphedema apart from plain edema (such as swelling from a sprained ankle).
What is lymphedema?
It’s an accumulation of protein rich interstitial fluid that has pooled. Most lymphedema has no known cause/origin and is attributed to poor lymphatic plumbing which some people are born with unfortunately. In tropical countries, certain mosquito or fly-borne diseases (filariasis) can infect the blood and lymph vessels.
If you’ve had lymph nodes removed due to cancer surgery or compromised from radiation treatment, you could be at risk to develop lymphedema. The affected limb will often feel heavy and sluggish. Your doctor will tell you no blood pressure cuffs or blood draws on the affected limb to keep risk down. Don’t wear tight bracelets or socks that would leave an indentation.
*I have completed more advanced training on how to specifically support breast cancer rehabilitation using MLD post-surgery (mastectomies and/or ALND/SLND, axillary web syndrome, fibrosis from radiation treatment). If you know of anyone that may benefit from this therapy, please refer them to me. Thank you!