A Guide to Manual Lymphatic Drainage

If you frequent magazines like Grazia, Woman and Home and the like, you can’t fail to have noticed that something called Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is having a real moment just now.  It sounds pretty grim, we’ll admit, but allow us to explain what happens, and how it can benefit you.

Firstly, what is the lymphatic system?  Second only to the circulatory system, it’s the system of the body that deals with removal of metabolic waste, toxins and pathogens, and it’s a delicate series of vessels and nodes that transport lymph and interstitial fluid (found in tissue fibres of the body), and it’s a vital part of our body’s immunity.  How is this fluid transported?  Well, unlike the circulatory system, there’s no equivalent of the heart to pump lymph around to do its good work, so it can only happen because of muscle movement.  Dr Galyna Selezneva, an aesthetics doctor based in Harley Street, explains it like this – “It’s like traffic on the M25. If you don’t direct it, you will end up with traffic jams.” If you’re still most of the time, everything is at greater risk of getting stuck and you’ll feel sluggish.  “Lymphatics work in the background, making sure the body can properly cleanse, detoxify and maintain essential fluid levels. By transporting lymph, which also contains white blood cells, it works to fight bacteria and infections, and expels abnormal or old cells.  Quite important, then, as it can lead to conditions such as acne, bloating, poor skin elasticity, water retention, cellulite and puffiness, fine lines and wrinkles, and even fatigue and mental health issues.  If the toxic load on the body is too great, it can even lead to a painful condition called lymphoedema, which we mostly associate with cancer sufferers, but isn’t exclusive to that group. 

So, how do you aid the flow of lymph around the body, and doesn’t it involve some kind of machinery?  Well, not necessarily; here at the Sangha House, our MLD expert, Charlotte Biro, practises a form of MLD massage introduced by Dr Emil Vodder in the 1930s.  It has a powerful calming effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, and involves moving the skin over the underlying tissues using repetitive, circular and spiral-shaped movements with alternating increasing and decreasing pressure. This creates a pumping effect, which encourages the flow of lymph fluid and drains excess fluid from connective tissue.

Aesthetic surgeons often encourage patients to receive the Dr Vodder method with a trained MLD specialist before and after procedures such as liposuction to enhance results and reduce the risk of swelling or complications. Therapists can create tailor-made treatments for clients with the correct pressure, flow and technique. This method only requires the hands and, as no oils are typically used, it’s suitable for all skin types.

If you’re feeling “dull”, sluggish and just generally a bit under par, MLD might just be the thing for you. Charlotte is here just once a month, but 90 minutes with her might just save your physical and mental health all in one go – and in these post-Covid times, isn’t that something worth considering?