Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), also called lymphatic massage, is a highly specialized form of massage that uses precise hand movements and pressure techniques developed to encourage the natural drainage of the lymph nodes. Specifically, MLD is used to treat swollen lymph nodes and lymphedema, which is an accumulation of fluid that occur from birth or after lymph nodes are surgically removed. The most common causes of lymphedema are mastectomies, melanomas, colon or prostate cancers, infection, or other trauma.

MLD is performed by specialists to relieve the swelling and pain that can occur near the site of the removed or damaged lymph nodes; the lymphatic system has a major role in our immunity, waste removal, and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to cells, and massage is also used to balance lymphatic flow to avoid excess fluid retention. The main goal of manual lymphatic drainage is to restore the balance of fluid in the tissues, whether the lymph nodes are present or removed.

A lymphatic massage session is generally light, with gentle, rhythmic hand movements that directionally follow the structure of the lymphatic system. This allows the lymph vessels to open and any lymphatic fluid build-up to drain properly. Continuous MLD helps to keep the lymph fluid moving, which controls existing swelling, pain, and waste build-up and acts to prevent any future problems. Because it is a light, repetitive massage, it also calms the nervous system and allows the entire body to deeply relax.

It is important to consult with your doctor and massage therapist, as lymphatic drainage is a specialized massage and is not needed to maintain your general health. While some may say that MLD can be used in a number of beneficial ways, as long as your lymphatic tissues and lymph nodes have not been damaged or removed, there is no real need to worry about seeking help with lymphatic drainage.