Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a type of gentle massage technique which is intended to encourage the natural drainage of the lymphatic fluid (lymph), which carries waste products away from the tissues back to the blood circulation system. Lymph is generally similar to blood plasma except that it also contains white blood cells. Lymph returns proteins and excess interstitial fluid to the bloodstream. Lymph may pick up bacteria and bring them to lymph nodes where they are destroyed. Lymph also transports fats from the digestive system. A healthy, active lymphatic system depends on internal contractions of the smooth muscle cells in the walls of lymph vessels (peristalsis) and body movements to move lymphatic fluid through the vessels to lymph nodes. It then passes beyond the lymph nodes where it is filtered to the lymph ducts which return lymph to the cardiovascular system. Manual lymph drainage uses a specific amount of pressure and rhythmic massage movements to stimulate lymph flow and is performed by therapists who received specialized training with this technique.
Lymphatic drainage is useful when the normal functioning lymph system is compromised by surgery, radiation, cancer, injury or other disruption to the lymph nodes. It has been estimated that up to 25% of breast cancer patients whose surgery includes removal of lymph nodes in the area of the armpit eventually develop lymphedema, which is an abnormal accumulation of lymphatic fluid. The condition can also occur in the legs or other parts of the body if lymph nodes are removed in the course of other types of surgery or are damaged by radiation treatment, infection or trauma. Symptoms can include swelling and pain near the site of the removed or damaged lymph nodes. Lymphedema can occur immediately after radiation therapy or surgery, or weeks, months, and even years later. The lymphatic drainage is used to help the flow of lymph fluid through the body to reduce swelling and pain from the fluid accumulation.