Our Lymphatic System and Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

Blazing Sky Bodywork

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system. Most people are aware of their cardiovascular system but less commonly aware that the cardiovasclar system is only part of their overall circulatory system.  Our cardiovascular system, with the help of red blood cells (RBC) carries and distributes nutrients, oxygen, neurotransmitters, chemicals and hormones to distal parts of the body through arteries and arterioles. The RBCs and their cargo are dropped off in the tissues for cell use. The capillaries pick up these RBCs and wastes and carries them in veins to filter the blood through the kidneys and liver before returning to the heart and lungs to do it all over again. 

The lymphatics are a series of veins that run from distal parts of the body toward the heart but don't have a set of arteries leaving the heart.  It is a ONE WAY system and it houses a high concentration of white blood cells and T-cells that are responsible for our immune response. When wastes such as large proteins, fat cells and pathogens are unable to move back into the smaller capillaries of the cardiovascular system the lymphatic system picks them up and moves them through progressively larger lymphatic vessels to lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are the functional part of the lymphatic system where the wastes are churned up inside the nodes and attacked with the WBCs  Phagocytosis (cell eating) takes place and the large waste products and pathogens are disarmed and crushed up before being returned to the blood stream for disposal. The human body has between 400-700 lymph nodes depending on the person.

In addition to edemas, cancers form where cells are forced to mutate in order to survive in toxic environments. Remember, our cells are eating and excreting in the same pool of fluids. Too many toxins surrounding a cell prevent nutrients from moving in and toxins from moving out. Cells reprogram and mutate to survive. Our bodies are designed to fight off these cancer cells but sometimes lose that fight. With less emphasis on life threatening pathologies, the most common illness that we face daily are also combated by the lymphatic system. Opportunistic pathogens can over grow in our bodies if our immune systems are unable to mount an appropriate defense. The outcome could be the common cold, yeast infections, sinus infections, urinary tract infections, infectious skin infections, staph infections and more. The list is endless.

Since the lymphatic system is only a one-way system moving toward the heart, it doesn't have the muscular contractions of the heart to propel the fluids and wastes forward. It relies on the rhythmic pressures created from body movement. 80% of lymphatics are superficial and moveable through manual lymphatic drainage techniques. 20% of the body's lymphatics are deep and are moveable through kinesthetic movements of the body. If the lymphatic system is overloaded or sluggish from a lack of movement (as common in bed ridden patients) the body's ability to fight off these common pathogens is reduced. Our lymphatic system has the task of picking up the leftover fluids (up to 20%) preventing edemas and illness. In fact, without our lymphatic system, we would not survive more than 2 to 3 days.  Incredible video explaining the lymphatic system and lymphedema done by Tactile Medical (so it is an ad for them at the end, but the information is spot on and so important for you if you are reading this section, so go back and click on the link.  :) your welcome.

MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) Therapy
MLD is an amazing advanced therapy. It has many applications and is very gentle to receive. It is simple and complex at the same time. Lymphatic Therapy is not like massage. The pressure is light, not deep. It mimics the body's natural rhythms. The ordering of MLD strokes is as important as the quality in the technique touch. It is a very specialized hand technique beginning at the clavicle where the lymph moves into the cardiovascular system and the moving to the more distal chains. The practitioner uses a range of specialized movements that move and stretch skin in the direction of lymphatic flow. The movements are repeated many times. They are slow and rhythmical and speed up the activity of the lymphatic system, and in doing so drains the affected tissue of excess water, waste products and protein that would need to be eliminated via the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are located all over the body but most conceentrated in the neck and behind the ears, under the chin, under the arms, deep in the abdomen and at the inguial region where the legs meet the trunk. The effects are far-reaching. For such a light and gentle treatment to have such profound effects is truly phenomenal!

In the early 1930's Dr Emil Vodder created a unique series of light massage-like movements, that included massaging lightly over the cervical lymph nodes, and found that they "cured" a range of problems. By the 1950's he and his wife Estrid were educating the European world on lymphology and teaching MLD. They called upon their friend Gunther Wittlinger to continue educating the world on the lymphatic system and the benefits of MLD. Gunther and his wife Hildegaard continued to treat and educate. Professor Hildegard Wittlinger and her family continue to run the Vodder School and Wittlinger Therapezium, treating clients with lymphedema and training MLD therapists around the world. I feel extremely blessed that I was able to learn directly from Professor Hildegaard at the International Vodder School in Austria.

Who can benefit from MLD?

MLD is safe and beneficial for most people with a few exceptions. For the most part, if you are frequently ill or just slugish, MLD can help overcome this burden if the primary cause is an overtaxed lymphatic system. Minor edemas can be helped with the basic lymphatic techniques.  More extreme edemas need specialized care and additional training. Check with your MLD care provider for credentials and training levels if lymphedemas are present. Your practitioner should screen your health history (if he/she doesn't, look for another practitioner). Do not receive lymphatic drainage if you are running a fever over 100F.  Cardiovascular and Kidney disorders are high on the list of concerns. Also, anyone who has or recently had an active cancer needs to be considered carefully before treatment. This doesn't mean that MLD cannot be performed on this population, but special considerations need to be weighed including a recommendation from their treating physician. Again, it is very important that your practitioner is officially trained and certified so they can treat properly. The same pathology in different people produce different responses and carries a variety of different secondary disorders. (See specific benefits below)

How should I prepare?

Eat light and healthy for a few days before and after a lymphatic drainage session.  Drinking plenty of water and limit high salt and fatty intake will help your body to heal itself. You will be less liekly to feel ill due to a healing crisis if you treat your body with respect as a matter of habit but especially when you are planning to be seen or a detoxification style treatment.

What should I wear?

Dress comfortably for your session, you will be asked to disrobe and lay face up (or face down) under a sheet.  The area of your body not being treated will be covered so your warmth and modesty will not be compromised. No lotions or oils are used during this session so stickiness during redressing after the session is not a concern.

What should I expect from an MLD session?

MLD does not feel like a massage but it is very relaxing.  The touch is extremely gently and rhythmic so most clients fall asleep during the session.  We recommend no conversation or questions limited to the treatment only if necessary. Questions are encouraged to be asked in advance but feel free to ask your question at any point during the session. The quiet time enhances relaxation and healing but your knowledge in the process also offers a necessary comfort.

Will I get sick from and MLD session?

If your system is highly toxic or you are fighting a rather nasty batch of pathogens, it is possible for you to feel ill following a lymphatic drainage session or possible during the session. This process is known as a healing crisis. The healing crisis response does not happen often but don't be alarmed if it happens to you. You have not been injured. It is your body's natural and necessary response to the pathogens that were laying wait in your body.  MLD speeds up lymphatic filtration and makes your body process a higher concentration of fluid or pathogens more rapidly.  The good news is that it will pass more quicky as well, frequently in a matter of hours, (in some individuals may take 24-36 hours). Be patient and let your immune system do its job.  You wll be healthier for it.  I recommend my clients to drink twice the amount of water they normally intake to encourage the detox that your body will already have after MLD. Use your best judgment however, if your symptoms are extreme or do not subside in a reasonable manner you may want to see your health care physician as more deeply rooted problems may be present.  Now that I've told you all about the bad stuff, let me comfort you by saying that you should feel better than you have in a long time following your first lymphatic session and even better with subsequent sessions.  Typically you will experience a greatler level of energy and endurance an a clear sense of self being.

How often should I get Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

Lymphatic Drainage is most productive in a series of treatment, usually 3 sessions. A session usually lasts between 60 - 120 minutes. The first session begins the movement and is much like a squeegee pushing mud slug down a drain. The second session picks up the reaining debris after the initial draining has occurred and should follow the initial session within 3 days. Three or four days later another session should be received to make sure the new moementum is maintianed.  Occasionally the practitioner may find that additional sessions are necessary (as with liposuction or cosmetic surgery) or that after the first or second session there is no need to return immediately.  Once  you have completed the first series of sessions you should return to maintain as you feel necessary. If you wait until you feel positively horrible before you return, you will be starting all over again. It is easier to maintain health than it is to regain it!  Remember that healing is a process not an event. You begin to peel the layers of dysfunction away like the layers of an onion. Be comitted to health and a clear simple path. Healing doesn't always feel good but health does once you've arrived.

Specific Benefits
There is an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system which is very calming. It is indicated for a variety of conditions as it acts upon physiological functions of the human body. It represents an alternative or a key supplement to the existing plethora of physical therapies.

MLD and Lymphedema (therapist must be fully certified in order to treat Lymphedema)
MLD is vital and the main application in the treatment of lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling found in different parts of the body due to mechanical insufficiency of the lymph vessel system. Most commonly found in an extremity of the body, i.e. legs or arms, Lymphedema also occurs in the trunk, abdomen, face or genital area.  Protein rich fluid accumulates in the dermis of the skin, which can have pathological and clinical consequences if left untreated.  Lymphedema can become a life-long condition and must be treated early and consistency. An amazing video that explains the Lymphatic System and Lymphedema, a must see if you have or think you may have lymphedema!

MLD and pregnancy
MLD is safe throughout a woman's pregnancy - safe for mother and baby. As well as not being detrimental, it is enhancing because it is congestion reducing. As long as pre-eclampsia is ruled out, MLD is the treatment of choice for puffy eyes, puffy ankles and tired, swollen legs in pregnancy. It can help make pregnancy induced carpal tunnel manageable, and is also good preparation for labor because of its calming and soporific effect. Prophylactic use against stretch marks during pregnancy as well as post -natal lymphatic massage promotes lactation in nursing mothers.

MLD pre and post operatively

Swelling is a natural result of tissue damage after an injury or an operation. Providing MLD intensively before a major operation can stimulate the lymphatic system and clear up any existing congestion, thereby increasing the effect of any post-operative MLD and recovery. A lymphatic system that is running well will cope with the post operative swelling better than a sluggish one. After an operation (or even an injury) the part of the body with a lot of swelling and trauma is struggling to deal with the excess fluid. Lymphatic therapy can move the excess fluid to other parts of the body, where the undamaged or un-overloaded lymphatic system can take it up. This reduces the congestion at the local lymph nodes. Overall it can help remove the anesthesia and debris from the system faster and swelling is reduced, pain is reduced, comfort is increased, so your healing time is much faster. Operations for which it might be especially helpful include hip and knee replacements, cosmetic surgery*, and cancer surgery.

MLD and pain reduction
In many applications the analgesic effect of MLD plays a major role. Stimulation of the touch receptors in the skin send messages to the brain when stroked, and these messages flooding in, during a treatment can block the messages from the pain receptors. In fact the whole nervous system is calmed during treatment and this can help reduce pain, and "pain memory". This means that this type of therapy can have a pain-relieving or pain reducing effect. It is certainly worth a try for many conditions as only a few conditions are absolutely contraindicated.

MLD and relaxation
Lymphtic therapy is profoundly relaxing and therefore stress reducing. Often specific or general stress feeds into whatever "archilles heel" we have, exacerbating it. Some people are just so busy dashing about they never stop and listen to their body so it could be argued that any treatment that means they lie down for an hour and stop is beneficial. Add to that the calming effect received, and the meditative state induced by massage and reflexology and we have treatments that can break the adrenaline cycles of stress, type A personalities, and being too busy. MLD treatments allow that little time-out and teaches the body a different state of being.

MLD and children
Children are welcome to have MLD treatments. These tend to be shorter time than for adults, and can help a range of problems from glue-ear, sinus infections to run down immune systems, downs syndrome, constipation and lymphedema. (Yes, sadly children get this too).

MLD and general health conditions
Although there is no scientific evidence for the immunological benefits of MLD, it is well known from experience that MLD reinforces the body's own mechanisms for resisting illness. The lymph nodes are  just a part of the lymphatic system and they filter the lymph on its journey back to the heart. Because of this, Lymphatic therapy has an effect on the immunological defenses of the body, thus a by-product of this can be a stronger immune system. This is very helpful when people are run down, for example after a major illness or stress

Contraindications of MLD
Despite the great variety of applications for Lymphatic Therapy (MLD), contraindications for this therapy exists.  I have provided a list below of reasons where MLD cannot be applied. However other modalities can be used until these conditions subside.

     - Acute Infections

     - Thrombosis or risk of causing embolism

     - Untreated Cancer

     - Chronic Inflammation

     - Bronchial Asthma

     - Hypotension

     - Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)