What is MLD ? MLD is a subtle, gentle, non-invasive manual technique that has a powerful effect on the body. Its primary goal is to help reduce swelling and inflammation in areas of excessive fluid buildup by helping to facilitate lymph flow. Research in Australia, Europe and North America has proven its efficacy as a stand-alone treatment and in combination with other therapies.
Developed in France in 1932 by Emil and Estrid Vodder, MLD has grown to be the most well known manual technique to assist lymph flow and aid in drainage of tissues.
The skin is stretched and torqued in a specific manner, based on scientific, physiological principles that have proven to encourage lymph flow. If performed correctly with the correct pressure, direction and speed, this can greatly enhance recovery and facilitate drainage. It also has profound effects on the nervous system and other systems in the body.
What does it do exactly? As implied by its name, Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) works on and in conjunction with the lymphatic system. This is a system of vessels that removes proteins, excess fluid, viruses, and bacteria. This type of hands on work aids in the waste removal at a cellular level and helps bring nutrients and oxygen to the cells. You can imagine why this treatment is so valuable for someone who has just had an operation. Between the anesthesia, swelling, bruising, and tightness, this treatment can encourage the lymph to move faster and more completely than it sometimes can on its own.
Is MLD a type of Massage? This is largely just a matter of semantics but the short technical answer is no. Interestingly, one of the pioneers in this technique, Emil Vodder actually did call it massage back when he was creating these techniques, however as the field of massage evolves and strives to find its way in the modern world, it seeks ever more science backed data to help define it, Massage describes a spectrum of soft tissue techniques that range from relaxation oriented treatments all the way to injury rehabilitation. Massage therapists are working primarily on the muscles of the body and as well on the nervous system. MLD therapists are working on the Lymphatic system and as well the nervous system is affected along the way.
MLD can be performed by Massage Therapists, MLD specialists, or Physical Therapists. Because it is a hands on technique, it resembles and can be described as a "light touch" massage, but it is very specific and is done for specific reasons. "Lymphatic Drainage Massage" is one of the top google search terms for MLD, so its not surprising, that many people call it massage, and that's ok - just be sure that your provider is experienced in these specific techniques.
Is it painful? No, it is usually quite the opposite. It is very light, gentle and rhythmically slow. When people hear the word “massage”, they often think of deep tissue work. For clients who have just had plastic surgery, the last thing they imagine that they want to have is a massage on their swollen, sensitive and often bruised bodies. However, MLD is pain-free, offers tremendous healing benefits, and is actually quite relaxing. There is no such thing as Deep Tissue MLD.
How does it promote healing ? Since the majority of the lymph system sits right below the skin, the pressure used in this special technique is extremely light. By using this light pressure in a rhythmic, circular motion, the therapist can stimulate the lymphatic system to work more efficiently and help it move the fluids back to the heart. As a result, swelling is reduced, and the body has an opportunity to heal more quickly.
What about toxins ? This is a funny, overused and widely misunderstood word in the world of massage. The idea that massage or MLD releases, or moves "toxins" creates an interesting visual picture but it is a bit of a stretch. Any massage therapist that tells you they are removing your toxins, likely doesn't fully understand what massage does. This notion persists in the massage world and continues to get passed down. Having said that the Lymphatic system is the system in the body that deals with cellular waste and by products. Things like dead cell fragments, tattoo ink, long chain proteins, foreign substances - waste products but not necessarily toxins. Your body would not be able to survive very long if toxins were in wide circulation. So instead of "toxins" think "cellular waste'.
What is CDT ? CDT or Complete De-congestive Therapy is a specialized form of MLD requiring additional training and experience. Designed specifically for patients with Lypmhedema, it is an intensive program that combines many different treatment approaches, including bandaging, compression garments, manual lymphatic drainage, exercise, and self care. If you have Lymphedema, or suspect you are a candidate for CDT, please contact us here for a consultation.
Lymphedema Lymphedema refers to tissue swelling caused by an accumulation of protein-rich fluid that's usually drained through the body's lymphatic system. It most commonly affects the arms or legs, but can also occur in the chest wall, abdomen, neck and genitals.
Lymph nodes are an important part of your lymphatic system. Lymphedema can be caused by cancer treatments that remove or damage your lymph nodes. Any type of problem that blocks the drainage of lymph fluid can cause lymphedema.
Severe cases of lymphedema can affect the ability to move the affected limb, increase the risks of skin infections and sepsis, and can lead to skin changes and breakdown. Treatment may include compression bandages, MLD, compression stockings, sequential pneumatic pumping, careful skin care and, rarely, surgery to remove swollen tissue or to create new drainage routes.
What causes Lymphedema ? Secondary Lymphedema can be caused by cancer or by cancer treatment.
Sometimes a cancerous tumor can get big enough to block the lymph system.
Surgery to remove cancer may also remove lymph nodes or some of the vessels that carry the lymph fluid. This can cause the fluid to build up in surrounding tissues.
Radiation treatment can damage the lymph vessels, resulting in too much lymph fluid in the tissues.
Primary Lymphedema is hereditary
The Lymphatic System
A technical breakdown of the positive effects of Dr. Vodder’s Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
What makes this technique so distinctive? The Vodder method is a gentle, non-invasive technique that gently assists the lymphatic system. The Vodder technique begins with treatment of the lymph nodes and lymph vessels found at the neck and the junction of the large lymph channels in the venous arch on both sides of the body (connection of the jugular and subclavian veins). Dr. Vodder called this “clearing the chain lymph nodes down to the terminus”.
For MLD to be effective, use of proper techniques, adaptation of the length of individual therapy sessions, and a treatment plan all work in conjunction to meet the needs of the client and the pathology concerned.
The Effects of MLD MLD produces three to four major effects, all of which have been scientifically studied and confirmed:
De-congestive Effect Any swelling of the body – with the exceptions of cardiac (heart) and renal (kidney) edema – can be successfully treated with MLD. The lymphatic system is a kind of “one-way street”, which ultimately transports the lymphatic load (protein, fat, cellular and water load) in the right ventricle from the tissue back into the circulatory system. Just picture the lymph fluids as the waste removal system of the human body. Wherever “waste” (cell fragments, proteins, detritus from wounds) is produced, the lymphatic system must act in order to drain such waste. The special MLD techniques induce a pumping effect in the tissue. The lymphatic pathways’ own rhythm is accelerated to up to 6 times its normal rate. This enhanced drainage effect results in de-congestion and restoration of normal tissue condition.
Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Effects Manual Lymph Drainage is very soothing. Intended primarily to act on the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, patients frequently doze off within minutes. Steady and rhythmic hand strokes by a good therapist are the prerequisite for successful treatment. If you are feeling very stressed then try a series of 3 to 5 x 30 minutes express lymphatic drainage sessions. It is a wonderful preventive measure against burnout.
Analgesic Effect MLD stimulates the lymphatic system to alleviate pain aka Gate control theory. MLD results in pain mediators being drained into the lymphatic system more rapidly, so that they are no longer active in the tissue. Any prolonged pain, such as pain generated by migraine, acute injuries, Sudeck’s disease, fibromyalgia, etc can be treated using lymph drainage.
Immunological Effect MLD helps accelerate the transportation of bacteria and allergens to the places where the body’s defense system is located (i.e. the lymph nodes) and where the increased rate of lymphatic drainage heightens the sensitization of lymphocytes and macrophages. The latter can travel more rapidly via the blood flow to reach the “scene of action".
Other Companion Treatments
Full Chest & Breast Massage
Breast and chest massage can relieve swelling and help support circulation of both blood and lymph in breast tissue, which is useful in keeping breasts healthy. It can also open up the anterior torso, promote ease of breathing, alleviate stress.
It can be incorporated into any wellness massage or MLD treatment, however for mastectomy patients this can be especially useful. This can be a profoundly powerful way for a woman to feel whole and connected to her entire body - and may aid in acceptance of feelings and emotions resulting from this surgery. This work is performed by a certified and specially trained therapist.
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