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lymphatic therapy

Manual Lymph Drainage is a gentle skin technique that stretches & stimulates the skin in very specific directions to activate lymphatic drainage. By manually assisting the lymph vessels to pull fluid out of tissues, the lymphatic system can better remove excess fluid & waste products accumulated from surgery, injury or illness.

History & Practice
of Manual Lymph Drainage

Manual Lymph Drainage was developed by Dr. Emil Vodder, Ph.D., M.T. of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1935. He and his wife, Estrid, were massage therapists working in France on the French Riviera, treating English patients recovering from illness caused by living in the damp, cool weather in England. Mostly colds & flues. Dr. Vodder noticed the lymph nodes of his patients were large & swollen and decided to manually stimulate the lymph nodes to see if it would improve their symptoms. He intuitively discovered a technique that worked. As a result, his patients recovered from their colds & flues very quickly. He went on to develop four specific techniques designed to activate the lymphatic system & called it Manual Lymph Drainage. He began holding lectures and demonstrations & taught MLD courses to Massage Therapists for the next several decades until expanding into the Dr. Vodder School in Europe, founded in 1971.

Continuing to grow in other countries, a school in the U.S. opened in the late 1970's. The Dr. Vodder School International opened its corporate headquarters in Victoria, B.C. Canada in 1993. The schools are staffed with physicians & Certified Lymphedema Therapists who teach MLD certification courses and travel internationally to teach all over the world. There are two certification courses, MLD and CDT (Combined Decongestive Therapy) which includes compression garments & pumps for more severe lymphedema. MLD has evolved from treating simple colds & flues to now treating patients with Lymphedema & severely compromised Lymphatic systems with great success.

What is Lymphedema?

Primary Lymphedema is inadequate development of the lymphatic system sometimes present at birth but in most cases develops later in life for unknown reasons. Secondary Lymphedema is more common and results from surgery, radiation, injury or infection of the lymphatic system. It is an abnormal buildup of protein rich fluid in the skin & tissues caused by a decrease in the transport capacity of a compromised lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system runs parallel to the vascular system however can only flow in one direction and doesn't have a central pump (heart) but is powered by intrinsic contractions triggered from lymph capillary valves filling & emptying in response to lymphatic fluid load. This is better known as diffusion, filtration & resabsorption.


Lymph fluid is protein rich which attracts water to build up in the capillaries, this increase of pressure causes the valves to open & close creating diffusion & filtration, moving lymph fluid & waste products into the vascular system where it is carried away. The transport capacity of the lymphatic system has to be greater than the amount of lymph fluid it needs to transport. If there is too much of an increase in lymph fluid it will override the transport capacity and build up in the skin & tissues causing inflammation, severe inflammation in some cases.  

MLD Cannot be done in patients with these conditions
  • Untreated Congestive Heart Failure

  • Acute Untreated Deep Vein Thrombosis

  • Acute Cellulitis

  • Fever

  • Active Cancer

  • Renal Dysfunction


Cervical MLD cannot be used with:

  • Cardiac Arrhythmia

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Hypersensitivity of carotid sinus

  • History or Risk of Arteriosclerosis

Abdominal MLD cannot be used with:

  • Pregnancy

  • Menstrual Period

  • Recent Abdominal Surgery

  • Radiation Fibrosis, colitis, cystitis

  • After a pelvic DVT    

  • Crohn's Disease

  • Diverticulitis, Diverticulosis

  • Liver Cirrhosis

  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

  • Unexplained Pain

  • Implanted devices; drains, feeding tubes, colostomy bags, morphine pumps

  • Osteoporosis, bone cancer

  • Hormone Therapy (Tamoxifen)

Manual Lymph Drainage
can help with
  • Lymphedema in Oncology patients

  • Edema/Pain/Infection prevention

  • Hematoma

  • Constipation relief 

  • Stress Reduction

  • Improved Sleep

  • Palliative Care/Hospice    

  • Sprains

  • Fibromyalgia 

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Scleroderma

  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

  • Parkinson's Disease     

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Lupus

  • Cellulite

  • Tinnitus

  • Weight Loss

  • Traumatic Brain Injuries

  • Migraine/Sinus Headaches

  • Fibrocystic Breast Disease

  • Enhanced Immunity

  • Supports the body's own Healing

General Effects of Manual Lymph Drainage
  1. Increases Lymph-Angio activity (contraction of lymph vessels) by mildly stretching the skin using specific techniques, it increases the fluid uptake & transport capacity of the lymphatic system.

  2. Redirects fluid around blocked areas from surgery, trauma or infection or when scar tissue is present.

  3. Has a soothing effect which increases a parasympathetic response (rest & digest) while decreasing the sympathetic response (fight or flight).

  4. Has an analgesic effect by using MLD techniques on the skin encouraging drainage of nociceptors (sensory nerve cells).

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