Lymphatic Massage is less known and less in the limelight as other bodywork techniques, but no less effective – especially when it comes to treating some specific medical or psychological conditions. The following is an excerpt from Mirka Knaster’s book Discovering the Body’s Wisdom, which gives a great overview of the technique. We have quoted from the book before because it gives such concise summaries of many bodywork modalities. We can also recommend it to those of our readers who are inclined to study bodywork in order to take it up as a profession, as a first glimpse introduction to this vast field.
“Most Massages stimulate movement of the lymph as a matter of course, but lymphatic massage provides external pressure specifically to affect this flow. Different versions come from different parts of the world – Ayurvedic from India, Huna from Hawaii, and Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), developed by Danish physical therapists Estrid & Emil Vodder in France in the 1930s.”
“To understand the function of lymphatic massage, it is useful to know the role lymph plays in your body’s health. Like its red brother blood, milky white lymph filters foreign matter and removes excess fluid, protein and waste products from the tissues and transports them to the blood to be circulated and eliminated. If the lymph did not do its job, you would die from protein poisoning within twenty-four hours.”
“But unlike the blood, lymph does not have a heart to pump it through the body. It moves along slowly, with assistance from several forces. The contractions of voluntary muscles (which is one reason why exercise is so beneficial) and intestinal muscles (in peristalsis) squeeze lymph vessels. The pulsations of nearby arteries massage them, too, and the negative pressure in the chest cavity provides suction. External hands on stimulation helps increase the passage of lymph, especially when it gets backed up.”
“Lymph collects at nearly eight hundred nodes throughout the body, with two hundred in the neck alone. When nodes become swollen in the neck, armpit or groin, the areas feel tender. And when the ankles, feet, legs, arms and hands become thick with accumulated fluid, you have edema. Lymphedema also may occur following the removal of lymph nodes due to cancer.”
“Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is a gentle, precise and rhythmic method performed especially in clinics in Europe, where it has become the fourth most prescribed massage technique by medical doctors. Therapists and doctors report good results for sprains and bruises, ouffiness in the face following cosmetic or dental surgery, and muscular spasms from overuse or chronic tension. It also figures in the treatment of sinusitis, burns, acne, scars, arthritis, emphysema, migraines, tinnitus, trigeminal neuralgia, spinal injuries, and some cerebral disorders. For patients who have undergone such operations as hysterectomy, prostectomy and mastectomy, clinical evidence indicates that MLD moves fluid when an area can no longer perform this function. If begun before the fifth month of pregnancy, it can serve as a preventive for swelling and stretch marks. Research by European scientists confirms the effects of MLD.”
“Unlike regular massage, MLD is very light and does not penetrate to the level of your muscles. That is because almost half of your body’s lymph lies within the superficial layers below the skin. There is a deeper technique for dealing with spasms in the lymph vessels that drain the muscles. In a session I had, I was surprised that the physical therapist’s touch was as gentle as a feather. In the late 1970s, I had learned a different kind of lymphatic massage that called for stronger action, and thereafter I had assumed that deep pressure was necessary to affect the lymph.”
“Whether light or deep, MLD an on/off pulsing pressure, like a smooth pumping action, which has an immediate lulling, relaxing effect on your autonomic nervous system. It also uses other manipulation techniques – scooping, rotary and stationary circles. Therapists follow the pathway of the lymph and move in the direction of muscle fibers, the same as the lymph vessels. MLD can be effective even when the therapist can’t work directly on the affected area because of severe burns or other conditions. Massaging the opposite side of the body, or near the site can bring the same needed result.”
In India, you can learn the basics of Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) at the Aithein Bodywork Academy, which offers a 40-hour introductory course, with certification.