Manual Lymphatic Drainage vs. Traditional Therapeutic Massage

Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a powerful and effective treatment.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage vs. Traditional Massage Therapy

How do they differ?

Since we started doing Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) at our clinic, we have gotten many inquiries from clients wanting to understand how MLD differs from traditional therapeutic massage.  Interestingly, it’s quite different from what most people think of when they hear the word “massage”.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a powerful and effective massage modality.  It is commonly used to move stagnant or excessive lymph fluid (edema) due to traumatic injuries or surgery.  Additionally, MLD also can be useful in improving the immune system’s function.  The following characteristics give MLD the ability to achieve these goals.

Specific sequence.  When performing traditional massage therapy, the therapist has the freedom to arrange a session as they see fit for the client.  However, MLD therapists will always begin a lymphatic session by working on the neck.  This is because lymphatic fluid drains into the circulatory system here.  From there on, the lymph nodes, vessels and capillaries are stimulated in a specific sequence throughout the patient’s body


Pressure on phase and pressure off phase.  Your body is naturally moving lymphatic fluid through its vessels at a rate of 1 pulsation per second.  The intention of manual lymphatic drainage is to imitate this wave-like motion.  The MLD therapist does this by gently applying pressure to the body in the direction of lymph flow and then releasing the pressure.  This movement is done in several passes throughout the affected areas.  These gentle movements are what give MLD the reputation for being so relaxing.

No oil or lotion.  Manual Lymphatic Drainage consists of specific gentle, rhythmic movements that mimic the body’s own natural lymphatic pulsations.  In order to allow for the practitioner to maintain the correct movements without gliding over the skin, the therapist does not use any oil or lotion.

Very light pressure.  In traditional massage, the therapist is accessing the muscular layer of the body.  To do this, they often have to utilize very deep massage techniques to achieve the desired effect.  In contrast, MLD accesses the lymphatic capillaries which are in the dermis.  This means that in order to properly access them the therapist must use just enough pressure to move the lymph fluid through.

Different contraindications.  Manual Lymphatic Drainage can be an effective treatment strategy for a vast array of medical and stress-related conditions.  However, there are also a few health issues that are contraindicated (both general and relative).  Because MLD is helping the lymphatic fluid to move back into the circulatory system it is very important to disclose all of health conditions to the therapist.  This ensures that a safe treatment is done with your health in mind.  General (absolute) contraindications include:  Hyperthyroidism, Malignant Tumors, DVT, Acute Inflammation and Major Heart Problems.  Relative contraindications include:  Renal Failure, Active Cancers, and some Medications.  If necessary, your MLD therapist may need to contact your physician for medical clearance before the treatment can be done.

If you have any addition questions about how Manual Lymphatic Drainage is performed or how it could be beneficial for you, please contact us.