manual lymphatic drainage

As a practitioner and teacher of manual lymphatic drainage for 12 years, I can confidently say it is a highly specialized technique that can be used to address many injuries and pathologies. Also, it is a multidimensional discipline. Once you understand the full depth of what manual lymphatic drainage can achieve for both you and your clients, you may want to pursue training in this technique and offer it as a service.

Benefits of manual lymphatic drainage

This modality has the potential to benefit your clients in many was. Its applications include:

Post-injury: Manual lymphatic drainage can be used as part of a post-sports and post-injury rest-ice-compression-and-elevation (RICE) protocol when clients are unable to receive deep tissue or other massage techniques that would be contraindicated.

As an add-on: It can be included as a valuable addition to a massage treatment plan, and can be used as a prequel to other techniques, such as myofascial tension technique or deep tissue massage.

Using manual lymphatic drainage, we are able to gently and specifically engage the fascia and fluid, simultaneously releasing the tissues of the lymphatic-extracellular fluid and fascial planes; and in one movement negate many of the negative side effects of purely fascial work, which can lead to bruising and inflammation.

Before or after surgery: It can be used pre- and postsurgery as a way to prepare tissues for incision. Manual lymphatic drainage also promotes healing and tissue health postsurgery, helping prevent infection and other postsurgical complications.

For pain relief: Manual lymphatic drainage stimulates the vital functions of the skin, tissues and internal organs, and also helps eliminate cellular waste and stimulate the parasympathetic relaxation response, inhibiting muscle tonus and pain, according to Bruno Chikly, M.D., D.O., L.M.T.’s Silent Waves: Theory and Practice of Lymph Drainage Therapy, 1st Edition (2001).

To combat stress: Manual lymphatic drainage can be performed as a preventative technique that bolsters the body’s ability to rejuvenate and resist all types of stress, Chikly’s text also notes. This results in the speeding up of the fluid’s movement throughout the lymphatic system, enabling the increase of lymphocyte transportation and production.

More: Massage session room pathologies that may benefit from manual lymphatic drainage include fluid retention, lymphedema, sinusitis, hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, golfer’s or tennis elbow, bruising and edema.


How manual lymphatic drainage helps therapists

Importantly for the massage therapist, manual lymphatic drainage is a low-impact technique. When delivered in a relaxed, confident and precise manner, this modality allows you to work at a much lighter, slower pace.

The pressure used to perform manual lymphatic drainage has been compared to the pressure required to roll an uncooked egg across a bench slowly—in other words, it does not require much pressure at all. This in itself is a bonus to the massage therapist, who can often spend a full day delivering treatments that require more pressure-intensive techniques—and this can take its toll by the end of the work week.

Manual lymphatic drainage is all about moving fluid. Moving fluid requires deft touch, gentle manipulations of the surface of the skin, and slow movements, as the reality is that the lymphatic system moves slowly. As a result, the therapist’s body moves in a more relaxed and easy manner, allowing you to find rhythm in your work and softness for your wrists, hands and arms.


Learn more

If you don’t know much about this modality, do some research on how the lymphatic system works, and you’ll see why manual lymphatic drainage can make an important addition to your massage modality list. There are many clients who could benefit from this type of therapy—and many therapists who could benefit, as well.


About the Author

Michelle VassalloMichelle Vassallo, massage therapist and director of Rhythm Massage Development, has designed various massage workshops; her teaching specialties are manual lymphatic drainage, research literacy and self-care. A dedicated educator with many years of experience in bodywork, she guarantees a fun and dynamic learning journey for her students.