A primer on manual lymphatic drainage

My first bout of treatment with Julie was in a private room. At the beginning of our session, I would disrobe and lie under a sheet. She would enter the room and begin manual lymphatic drainage.

Manual lymphatic drainage: a massage technique that is usually focused at moving the skin to increase the efficiency of the lymphatic system.

It’s very light like a butterfly landing on your skin or the pressure you would use to pet a cat. Because a signficant portion of the lympathic system resides in your skin, that’s why you need to remove your cloths when you are receiving this type of massage.

What it’s not: Manual lymphatic drainage should not make your skin turn red or hurt. Some “milking” techniques use a firm pressure to remove swelling. With someone who has a comprimised lymphatic system, inappropriate hard techniques can cause more problems than they solve. Since your lymphatic vessels lie under your skin, hard pressure occludes these vessels and decreases the effectiveness. “Deep tissue” or any type of massage over the affected area should be avoided.

Let’s say you got a giftcard for a 1 hour swedish massage! Alright! You have chosen lavender as your essential oil and you’re ready to go. Remember to tell your massage therapist that you would prefer they HOLD off on your affected limb and the surrounding area. I.e. If your left arm is swollen, don’t massage the left chest, upper back or arm. If you right leg is swollen, don’t massage the right lower abdomen, right buttock, of right leg.

Anatomy and Physiology lession: Anatomy and physiology of the lymph system are the rationale or WHY manual lymphatic drainage needs to be done in a certain order and why someone who is certified needs to be delivering it.

Imagine you are stuck in traffic on a hot summer day on the major highway in your city. As you look ahead, cars are stopped for miles. You really want to be out of this traffic jam. According to reality, you have to wait for the cars ahead of you to start moving prior to the car directly infront of you, prior to when you can move. This traffic jam analogy explains why manual lymphatic drainage is performed to other areas of the body versus just the area that is swollen. The areas that will be accepting the “cars” need to be ready to receive “traffic”. More on this later.

Manual lymphatic drainage is such a helpful tool for getting the system going! However, if not followed up with compression, the gains do not last.

Example: Someone who has broken their foot comes to physical therapy to regain mobility and strength. I spend a lot of time physically moving their foot and I noticed improved mobility. They do not do their home exercise program to KEEP their foot moving. The next time I see them, back to square one. Analogy: You can receive manual lymphatic drainage from someone and it will improve your lymphatic system. However, the other components of CDT (compression, exercise, education) are essential to KEEP your lymphatic system healthy.

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