I’ll never forget the first time I received MLD, otherwise known as Manual Lymph Drainage, Lymphatic Massage, or Lymphatic Drainage.
It almost felt like a dream state, where I was half awake and half asleep. At one point I may have drifted in and out because I remember something like talking in my sleep — only I wasn’t quite asleep.
I also know my digestive system became activated. My stomach started making those gurgling noises and I was a little embarrassed, but the massage therapist said, “It’s fine, That’s the effect I was hoping for.”
When I got off the table 50 minutes later, I felt like I was walking on air. Very light and ethereal. I went home and slept really well that night!
A meditative state of calm
The first benefit — I can guarantee this nearly 100% — is the experience of magical relaxation. You could compare it to deep meditation. As a practitioner of lymphatic massage, I have never known even my most talkative and energetic clients not to drop into this deep state of relaxation. One minute they’re chatting about this and that. The next, they’re in la-la-land.
But besides relaxation, what does your body get from MLD? Let’s break it down.
1. Improvement of the lymph capillary uptake. The tissues of the body are gently buoyed and buffered by interstitial fluid in the underlying layers of skin. As the fluid builds up, the lymph capillaries open to received this watery, protein-rich liquid. MLD increases the absorption of interstitial fluid into the lymphatic system.
2. Increase in lymph vessel activity. At rest, the lymphangions (small sections of lymph vessels) contract at a rate of about 6–10 times per minute. Manual drainage encourages contractions of about 20 times per minute, by gentle stretching and pumping motions of the practitioner’s hands on the skin. By the way, heavy exercise can coax the lymph vessels to contract up to 100 times per minute, which is wonderful for your lymphatic system!
3. Parasympathetic effect. Your nervous system functions in two ways, your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response when you’re faced with a high-stress situation. The parasympathetic nervous system is your “rest and digest” response. It keeps the body from overworking and brings on a calm state. This is the total relaxation I referred to…and it’s beneficial for people with high stress, insomnia, and anxiety.
4. Analgesic effect. Besides the soothing effect of the light pressure on your skin and the gentle activation of the lymphatic system, MLD also shuts off the skin’s nociceptors. The nervous system can be stimulated in a way that closes the gates that normally allow pain signals to reach the brain. Manual lymph drainage provides powerful benefits for the management of pain in cancer and trauma patients.
5. Redirect fluid around blocked areas. Here’s an interesting fun fact: Your lymphatic system is a one-way route. Normal function allows sections of your body’s lymphatic vessels to drain into their specific lymph node regions. Occasionally, due to edema or scar tissue, the lymph vessels are blocked. Manual lymph drainage toward healthy lymph nodes is possible because the therapist can redirect the flow of lymph across watershed lines dividing sections of the lymphatic system. Without MLD, the lymph would not have access to those drainage receptacles.