MLD and Impaired Lymphatic Systems

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage is abbreviated as “MLD”, a skilled form of massage to help improve lymphatic flow

  • Benefits include: relaxation/stress relief, improved immune response, decreased pain, improved sleep, and reduced swelling

  • The principle of MLD is to open up and direct lymph drainage to areas which are not obstructed. This process redirects lymph fluid from congested areas to areas which are draining normally.



What does it feel like? I would say it feels like very light and soft pressure. The gentle stretch of the skin helps pull on filaments which attach to the collector lymphatic vessels and open up valves to help push the lymph fluid along their way. I find it to be very relaxing and helpful for sleep/insomnia, swollen puffy eyes, although I do not have an impaired lymphatic system. If you are very tuned in you can almost feel the fluid under the skin moving.


  • What do we mean by impaired lymphatic system?


This is usually individuals who have the diagnosis of Lymphedema. Lymphedema is a mechanical insufficiency of the lymphatic system where the lymphatics system cannot keep up with the demand of fluid volume accumulating under the skin. The reabsorption rate of lymph is less than the rate of filtration or fluid moving out of the capiliaries.



How we would perform MLD With and IMPAIRED LYMPHATIC SYSTEM:


An example would be a person with breast cancer and lymph node removal in the axilla or armpit areas. There is a blockage at the armpit therefore causing a backup of fluid in the arm.


  • In order to redirect flow you clear the collateral pathways to create a negative pressure effect

  • So therefore if the person had L arm lymphedema, L axillary region is affected. We could change the pathway of drainage to the lymph nodes that are working normally like in the inguinal or groin area on the same side or across to the lymph nodes in the R arm pit area.


MLD is very skilled and labor intensive, only trained specialists with a knowledge of anatomy and mechanisms. Best performed before intensive treatments.


  • MLD effects only last for hours up to a day after treatment. MLD is used best in acute treatment phases for 2-3 weeks, using massage, exercise and bandaging to try to open up channels and promote these channels to drain.

  • Otherwise MLD alone is not very cost effective as you would need a massage about every day or so to gain the effectively drain an area that is affected.



If you have any other questions on MLD for Lymphedema and impaired lymphatic systems, do not hesitate to ask!

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