What is Manual lymphatic Drainage?
Manual lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a gentle, powerful, clinical massage therapy. It boosts and stimulates the lymphatic system to balance fluid levels, promote the removal of toxins & waste products from the tissues, speed up healing and strengthen the immune system. It is a very pleasant, non painful, soothing, rhythmic treatment, which has a calming effect on the body and mind.
Manual lymphatic Drainage has the effect of clearing an overflowing, blocked drain. Firstly, the main drain is cleared, then working backwards towards the blockage, congested pathways or non working contributories are cleared or bypassed, filtering stations (lymph nodes) are serviced, then pathways are cleared back to the problem area. Gentle, repetitive work at the site enables the pool of overflowing fluid (which is experienced as pressure, pain, swelling or inflammation) to be sucked into the drainage system. This fluid, which has been stagnant and full of waste product is then cleansed and filtered through the lymph nodes. Manual Lymphatic drainage can greatly improve both localised and overall lymphatic function. It has been specifically developed to redirect lymphatic fluid from congested tissues where it is not effectively draining, to areas of the body where lymphatic drainage is normal.
What is the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is a one way transport system, which follows the network and system of veins, from the tissues to the main blood vessels just before the heart, underneath the collar bones. Wherever you have congestion or swelling, the fluid from that area has to follow these pathways back towards the heart. They run from fingers up the arms to underarm, from toes up the legs to groin, from face and head down the neck, from tummy to chest. Groups of lymph nodes are situated at the fold of most main joints-the knees, groin, elbows, underarm and neck. With movement, these joints act to pump the lymph through the nodes, because the lymphatic system does not have a pump of its own, like the circulatory system has the heart.
What Does the Lymphatic System Do?
The lymphatic system has four main functions; it acts as a waste disposal unit for the circulatory system, it maintains fluid levels in the interstitium, it makes,stores and fights germs with specialist defence cells as part of our immune system and it helps digests and transport fat in the small intestines....and that is the simplified version!
For most healthy people, the lymphatic system works invisibly in the background to protect, heal, digest, cleanse, detoxify and regulate fluid balances. It only becomes apparent when it gets overwhelmed. Then, familiar ‘glands’ in the neck or groin come up to announce the onset of a sore throat or flu or tired feet swell up at the end of a day, during pregnancy or after a flight.
What Can Cause Lymphatic Overload or Failure?
However, there are many reasons for the lymphatic system to become sluggish, not drain effectively, become overloaded or fail altogether. Some are listed below:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Diet loaded with salt and sugar
- Heart disease
- Venous insufficiency
- Side Effects of medication (especially mixed medications)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Autoimmune disorders
- Viral illnesses -Glandular Fever, Epstein Barr, Chicken Pox or Shingles
- Inflammatory conditions
- Impact injuries
- Broken bones
- Cancer treatments
- Radiotherapy damage to lymphatics
- Removal of lymph nodes (even sentinel node biopsy)
How Can Manual Lymphatic Drainage Help?
Because the lymphatic system is responsible for so many things in the body, the benefits of MLD can seem completely endless and unrelated. Manual lymphatic drainage stimulates not only the area which is directly involved with your symptoms, but it also stimulates the whole system to drain and circulate more effectively. It can help with all of the conditions listed below and many more:
- Pain related to injury, sprains, broken bones
- Muscular pain & inflammation
- Headaches-Migraines, sinusitis, glue ear
- Osteo arthritis, swollen joints
- Autoimmune conditions-Hashimoto's, rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis
- Skin Conditions
- Psoriasis, acne, rosacea, eczema
- Weight Loss
- Detoxification from chemotherapy. alcohol, drugs & medications
- Bloating, fluid retention, irritable bowel syndrome, functional bowel syndrome
- Lyme disease
- Post-viral syndromes: glandular fever, Epstein Barr, chicken pox, shingles
- Chronic Fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia
- Poor immunity, reccurring flu
- Swollen feet & ankles, puffy eyes, swollen face
- Crohns disease, ulcerative collitis
- Pregnancy fluid retention
How Many Sessions of Manual Lymphatic Drainage Do You Need?
It depends of the reason for your lymphatic issues, but MLD has a cumulative effect. There is usually a difference after two or three sessions. Often immediate benefits are felt, which relapse and improve, as the system picks back up. Many chronic conditions benefit from weekly, fortnightly or monthly sessions to keep symptoms under control and effectively managed. Often, autoimmune conditions have active and dormant sequences or specific triggers. Sometimes symptoms correspond to hormonal fluctuations or monthly cycles. Stress considerably affects many lymphatic conditions. MLD is also delivered as part of a care programme for patients with lymphoedema or lipoedema, which also includes compression garments, skin care regimes, exercise and movement. I always recommend that you are also looked after by your local NHS Lymphoedema Service.