Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is the secret behind many a healthy body and beautiful face. It has the ability to boost the immune system, clear sinuses and can stop a cold in its tracks. It’s also an absolute cosmetic treat.

MLD was developed in the 1930s in France by physician, Dr Emil Vodder and his wife Estrid. Vodder noticed how people suffering from chronic catarrhal and sinus infections tended to have swollen lymph glands and, much against medical practice at the time, started to work with the lymph nodes. The massage he developed had a circular, pumping effect which increases the movement of the lymphatic system of the body.

The medical establishment is beginning to take MLD very seriously. If the massage is given to burns victims soon after the accident it can rapidly bring the burn down. Scar tissue can be encouraged to build up only where needed, getting rid of unsightly large scars. Some specialists are also realising the value of MLD in post-cancer treatment, to tackle the painful and unsightly condition of lymphoedema (painful and unsightly swelling) which often develops following mastectomy or surgical removal of lymph nodes, or after radiotherapy. The Lancet* reported that MLD reduced lymphoedema by more than 50%. Even the notoriously sceptical Professor E Ernst of the School of Postgraduate Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter agrees the treatment is effective: “It reduces lymph oedema through enhancing lymph flow,” he confirms.

MLD is nothing like normal massage. There is no pounding of muscles, no probing and pulling; it feels like having your skin softly stroked by a child’s gentle fingers. It’s a light, repetitive movement with an almost hypnotic effect. After an hour I felt as if I were floating in a deep blue lagoon – I have never been so relaxed. MLD practitioner and teacher Dee Jones explains that the relaxation comes about because the massage affects the nervous system, instigating a change from the normal stressed “day time” state of the nervous system to the “night time” state we use when we’re asleep.
It also boosts your immune system by boosting the lymphatic system (the body’s waste disposal service). People who have regular MLD simply don’t get so many colds and infections. Any colds they do get disappear in hours or days rather than dragging on for weeks and sinuses drain as if by magic.

However many people use MLD purely as a beauty treatment. “It really can work miracles,” says Joy Salem who combines MLD with her “fingertip facelift” beauty treatment, “it punches in the jawline, tones the features and reduces lines.”
“Its effects on the skin are pretty spectacular,” agrees Dee Jones, “When you get the garbage out of the body it gives the skin a chance to regenerate. It won’t make you thinner as such but it will certainly make your face look thinner. It tightens up all the little saggy baggy bits, all the puffiness. To a degree it’s like a face-lift without surgery.”

Stretch marks can disappear but it takes hard work – regular sessions and daily self-massage. It’s the same story with acne and that scourge of modern life, cellulite. MLD will help but you have to help yourself. That means learning the technique and clearing your lymph for yourself on a daily basis as well as following a diet programme and keeping up a regime of regular swimming. “It takes time and commitment,” warns Dee, “You have to free the fat and the water that is trapped by proteins but it will clear.”

A one-off treatment is pleasant and is great for stress; it will make a difference to puffy eyes and if you have a blocked nose you’ll notice a swift change as well. But if you want to build up your immune system you would ideally have treatment three times a week for the first two weeks and then tail off after that, perhaps having a session every two to three months or if a particular problem arises.

Regrettably there are some people who are not advised to attempt MLD. Anyone who has suffered from TB needs to avoid it as there is a possibility that TB molecules stored in the lymph system could be reawakened. And anyone with heart problems (particularly cardiac odema) is also advised against the treatment.

Also do make sure you experience genuine “Vodder technique” MLD. “Many beauticians purport to do MLD,” warns Joy Salem, “but genuine MLD is a very gentle process while some of the machines that claim to help the lymph can actually do more harm than good.”


An Arm & A Leg specialises in MLD (and other supportive therapies) for lymphoedema and lipodema.

*(Vol 352, Number 9132)


A longer version of this feature first appeared in Woman & Home magazine


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