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What’s the Buzz About MLD?

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a highly specialised technique that may be used to treat many injuries and pathologies. Massage therapists may be unaware of the full depth MLD may achieve for both themselves and their clients. Added to this, quite often, initial training may not give them the confidence to successfully apply the technique. The reality is that MLD is a multi dimensional discipline.

What may MLD do for your clients?

  • It could be used as part of a post sporting and post injury RICE protocol when clients are unable to receive deep tissue or other massage techniques that would otherwise be contraindicated.
  • It could be included as a valuable ‘add in’ to the massage treatment plan and used as a prequel to other techniques such a myofascial tension technique and deep tissue. “With the use of MLD we gently and specifically engage the fascia and the fluid, simultaneously releasing the tissues of the lymphatic-extracellular fluid and fascial planes. In one movement we may negate many of the negative side effects of fascial work, that may lead to bruising and inflammation.” (1)
  • It could be used pre and post-surgery to prepare tissues for incision and also to promote healing and tissue health post surgery preventing infection and other post-surgical complications. (2)
  • MLD not only stimulates the vital functions of the skin, tissues and internal organs, but also serves to assist with elimination of possible cellular waste and stimulate the parasympathetic relaxation response, inhibiting muscle tonus and pain. (3)
  • It could be performed as a preventative technique that bolsters our bodies’ ability to rejuvenate and resist all types of stress. “This results in the speeding up of the fluid’s movement throughout the lymphatic system and through the major organs, enabling the increase of lymphocyte transportation and production.” (4)

A common list of massage room pathologies that may benefit from MLD includes:

  • Fluid retention, lymphoedema, sinusitis, hay fever, pain reliefBS and fibromyalgia, post sporting, carpal tunnel syndrome, golfers and tennis elbow, bruising and oedema.

What does MLD do for the therapist?

Most importantly it takes a load off. When delivered in a relaxed, confident and precise manner MLD as a modality allows the practitioner to work at a much lighter and slower pace.

The pressure used to perform MLD has been compared to the pressure used to roll an uncooked egg across a bench, slowly, in other words it does not require much pressure at all. This in itself is a bonus to the massage therapist who can often spend a full day delivering treatments that require more pressure intensive techniques.

MLD is all about moving fluid, and moving fluid requires deft touch, gentle manipulations of the surface of the skin and super slow movements, as the reality is that the lymphatic system moves SLOWLY. As a result, your body moves in a more relaxed and easy manner, allowing you to find some rhythm in your work and softness for your wrists, hands and arms.

If you are reading this and you don’t know anything about this amazing modality get curious. Do some research and find out exactly how the lymphatic system works, and why it is such an important add in to your massage modality list. There are many clients who could benefit from this type of therapy and many MT’s who could benefit as well.



Michelle Vassallo, director of Rhythm Massage Development and Education. She is a fellow therapist who has passionately designed various massage workshops with a focus on making them comprehensive and relevant to therapists. Her teaching specialities are Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Research Literacy Self Care for Massage Therapists and Palliative Care.

A dedicated educator with 17 years of experience in the field of bodywork, she guarantees a fun and dynamic learning journey for her students.

Her blog can be found at:

Her website:



Chikly, B. Silent Waves – Theory and Practice of Lymph Drainage Therapy, IHH Publishing, Scottsdale, USA, 2001

Foldi, M. Strobenreuther, R. Foundations of Manual Lymph Drainage, 3rd Edition, Elsevier, USA, 2003

Kurz, I. Textbook of Dr Vodders Manual Lymph Drainage, Volume 2, Therapy 4th Edition, Heidelberg, Germany, 1993

Kurz, I. Textbook of Dr Vodders Manual Lymph Drainage, Volume 3, Treatment Manual 2nd Edition, Heidelberg, Germany, 1990

Piller, Neil. “Manual Lymphatic Drainage”, Massage Australia, Issue 53, 2006 pp 4-15

Piller, N. O’Connor, M. The Lymphoedema Handbook 2nd Edition, Anderson Publishing, South Yarra, 2006

Thibodeau and Patton, 2010 Structure and Function of the Body, 13th Edition. Mosby Elsevier, USA

Wittlinger, H&G. Textbook of Dr Vodders MLD, Volume 1, Basic Course, Heidelberg, Germany, 1998

  2. Chikly, B. Silent Waves – Theory and Practice of Lymph Drainage Therapy, IHH Publishing, Scottsdale, USA, 2001
  3. Foldi, M. Strobenreuther, R. Foundations of Manual Lymph Drainage, 3rd Edition, Elsevier, USA, 2003





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