All About Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a type of bodywork that encourages natural drainage of lymph, which carries waste products away from the tissues and is naturally eliminated from the body.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage, lymphatic massage, troy michigan lymphatic massage

What exactly is lymph anyway and why does it need draining?

We are excited to announce that Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapy is here at Michigan Massage and Wellness!


Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD for short) is a manual technique used to stimulate lymphatic flow. Lymph is a clear fluid circulating through the body via the lymphatic system to relieve swelling and improve health. As one of its many functions, lymph helps to isolate disease-causing pathogens, and returns captured fats and protein back into the bloodstream.


Because the lymphatic system plays a pivotal role in the body’s immune system, advocates of MLD suggest that this form of treatment can help treat various health conditions.

Types of Manual Lymphatic Drainage

There are four popular styles of lymphatic drainage used by doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists, of course, named after the people who developed them:

  • Vodder: A foundational technique using various sweeping hand motions, depending on the part of the body being treated. Vodder is be the technique that we currently offer at Michigan Massage and Wellness. It is one of the most popular methods performed.
  • Földi: An extension of the Vodder technique in which circular hand motions are interspersed with moments of relaxation
  • Casley-Smith: A technique that also involves circular hand motions, with the sides and palms of the hands
  • Leduc: A technique in which hands motions “entice” (collect) lymph before directing its reabsorption into the more extensive lymphatic system

Each therapy technique is based on the same principles: Using gentle movements to stretch the skin in the direction of the lymphatic flow, starting at the part of the limb closest to the torso and moving outward. A lymphatic drainage session generally lasts for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the area and the reason for treatment.

Lymphatic drainage was initially developed in the 1930s by Danish physicians Emil and Estrid Vodder as a treatment for lymphedema (a condition marked by the buildup of lymph in soft tissues, often as the result of infection, injury, cancer treatment, surgery, or genetic disorders affecting the lymphatic system).

Lymphedema can manifest with a range of symptoms, including tissue swelling, skin discoloration, and pain, weakness, and heaviness in a leg or arm. If you suffer from lymphedema and are interested in getting treated, please know that lymphedema requires additional training, so make sure any therapist you see is certified to treat appropriately.

Lymphatic drainage may treat peripheral edema, the generalized swelling of tissues in the arms or legs not inherently associated with the lymphatic system.

Lymphatic drainage treats a wide variety of health conditions characterized by tissue swelling, including:


Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a condition in which the walls or valves in the veins of the legs are not working effectively, making it hard for blood to return to the heart from the legs. Lymphatic drainage has been proposed as a conservative treatment of CVI, and there is some evidence of its benefits.

According to a 2017 study in the journal Physiotherapy, the use of lymphatic drainage in 57 adults with CVI increased the velocity of blood flow in the femoral artery and other leg blood vessels immediately following the massage.

However, it was unclear how lasting these effects are or if the ongoing use of lymphatic drainage can sustain relief of peripheral pain and swelling compared to no treatment. Further research is needed.


Lymphatic drainage may benefit people with fibromyalgia, suggests a 2015 review of studies published in Manual Therapy. Fibromyalgia, characterized by the inflammation of nerves in the skin, often manifests with tissue swelling and skin discoloration.

According to a review of previously published studies, researchers found that lymphatic drainage massage was better than traditional massage therapy in treating stiffness, depression, and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.

Side Effects and Precautions

Lymphatic drainage is non-invasive and generally considered safe. Because the focus is on soft to moderate stretching of the skin, it doesn’t cause the discomfort associated with deep tissue massage or sports massage.

With that said, women who undergo lymphatic drainage to treat post-mastectomy lymphedema are more likely to experience short-term swelling and redness in the early stages of treatment.

As a rule, pain should never accompany lymphatic drainage. If there is pain, it may be the sign of an underlying condition for which massage may be detrimental, such as local infection or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

If you experience any pain during a lymphatic drainage massage, stop the session immediately and speak with your doctor or healthcare provider.

If you’re interested in seeing if a manual lymph drainage session might help you, we would love to see you!

In Good Hands,

Rebecca Tamm, LMT

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