MLD – Manual Lymphatic Drainage for health & beauty

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 an absolute cosmetic treat but also has a very serious use in helping lymphoedema.

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.

Professor E Ernst of the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter agrees the treatment is effective: ‘It reduces lymph oedema through enhancing lymph flow,’ he confirms.

Patsy, 54, was treated for cervical cancer six years ago and developed lymphoedema.  ‘About five weeks after my operation I realised something was wrong,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t pull my jeans over my thighs.  The sight of my legs ballooning was quite horrible.’  Patsy turned to MLD.  Her insurance paid for one course and her GP funded another. ‘I notice a huge difference,’ she says, ‘It definitely eases the lymphoedema, it keeps it down.  I just wish more doctors knew about it and referred their patients.’

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.’

‘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.

GPs can and do refer patients to MLD practitioners but generally only for lymphoedema.

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.’

My verdict:  a superlative treatment.  Absolutely essential for anyone suffering from lymphoedema and lipodema.  Plus a cosmetic treat for everyone.  Do go for Vodder technique though – I haven’t found the mechanical forms of lymph drainage anywhere near as effective.

To learn more about the painful condition of lymphoedema:


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



*(Vol 352, Number 9132)


Tell me what you think

Have you tried MLD?  What did you think?  Do you suffer from lymphoedema?  What treatments have you tried?  Have you tried MLD and did it help or not?  Do let me know your experiences by commenting below.



  1. Listen, can I just be assistant to the spa assistant’s assistant, or whatever pucking position is left in this organisation? I so need to have some of these treatments ..broken out in boils since return from Disneyworld, I put it down to plummeting levels of mohito in the bloodstream ….xx

  2. I am on a promise of MLD on the NHS, but ONLY once I have managed to get rid of the post op infection. Eight months now and still no sign of it going. I’ll report back once I have had it done and let you know how effective it is at helping with Lymphoedema.

  3. DD: yup, you can be deputy assistant (spas; subsection uberspas)….no worries. Boils? Better neck another mojito fast…

    Zoe: really hope that infection plays ball soon and leaves you alone. Would just love to see you having MLD and will be hugely interested to see how you rate it.

  4. Anything that would calm down inflamed sinuses – in uproar due to living in the Hayfever Capital of Western Europe – would be welcomed here with open arms!
    Fascinating pieces, Jane. Am learning a lot. Thank you.

  5. Now that sounds amazing! Would rather have this than the Reiki!
    There are draw backs to living in the wild wet west!

  6. I would just like to point out that there are three recognised MLD methods for treating lymphoedema.

    They are Vodder (as mentioned above), Foldi and LeDuc.

    MLD has helped enormously with my breast cancer related lymphoedema. I would think I’ve had over 200 sessions over the last 7 years or so, of which eight have been from the NHS – the rest I’ve had to pay for myself.

    It’s internationally accepted as an effective treatment for lymphoedema. Paying for it is a often financial burden cancer patients are expected to shoulder for the rest of their lives, often when their earnings potential has been greatly and pernaently reduced.

    Hang your heads in shame, NICE.

  7. Hi there, thanks so much for commenting. I am unaware of Foldi and LeDuc so thank you so much for bringing those to my attention, and t hose who may read this site. Do you reckon the other two?
    I couldn’t agree more about the funding issue. It is criminal that people should have to pay for such an effective treatment – especially, as you so rightly point out, when their earning capability is so often reduced or eliminated.

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