What is MLD?

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is an advanced, light-touch therapy which works on the lymphatic system. Not to be confused with lymphatic drainage massage – although the two terms are often used interchangeably they are very different treatments. MLD is the process of moving and stretching the skin in a very precise manner, to encourage the flow of lymph through the body.

The therapist, who should be specifically trained, and continually appraised, uses light but varying amounts of pressure around the body. In Lymphoedema, MLD encourages the fluid away from any congested areas by bypassing ineffective or injured lymph vessels. The excess fluid and any protein contained within it are cleared from the affected area which results in a reduction in swelling and a lower risk of fibrosis or infection. In other instances, MLD stimulates the flow of lymph where lymph nodes may be blocked or sluggish.

Each treatment lasts approximately 50 minutes and is a very relaxing way to invest in your health and well-being.

Manual Lymph Drainage was developed in the 1930s by Danish doctor, Emil Vodder and his wife, Estrid, for the treatment of chronic sinusitis and other immune disorders. Today, it is practised widely around the world as a physical therapy with benefits in a range of situations and is often recommended by doctors post-surgery.

MLD and Cancer: During treatment for cancer it may be necessary to surgically remove one or more lymph nodes in order to examine the lymph nodes for the presence of cancer cells, or to remove lymph nodes which have been found to contain cancer cells. Lymph nodes may also be damaged by radiotherapy.

For example, in the case of breast cancer, lymph nodes in the axilla (or underarm) may be effected. When these nodes are removed, the lymphatic fluid that would normally flow through them and be filtered by them, now finds itself without a clear pathway to follow. The fluid then leaves the lymphatic vessels and sits in the tissue surrounding that area. The fluid can build up over time, if untreated. This build-up leads to oedema/lymphoedema (or swelling) in the hand, the arm or even the chest.

MLD is a gentle, light-touch technique whereby a specifically trained therapist moves and stretches the skin to encourage the movement of fluid to another drainage area that is functioning normally. Over time, with regular MLD sessions and/or body brushing that can be performed at home, the body learns to bring fluid along this new pathway to deal with the absence of lymph nodes in the effected drainage area.

So, seeking MLD treatment and advice on home-care techniques as soon as possible can give you greater control, and delay the onset of lymphoedema for as long as possible.

Many health insurance providers cover some of the cost of MLD treatment for patients who have received cancer treatment, provided that the therapist is a registered member of MLD Ireland Association. For example, VHI cover €50 per session x 10 sessions, and this can be claimed back after the 10 sessions have been completed. The cost of compression garments may also be covered in full by some providers. It’s advisable to contact your insurance provider to find out exactly what’s covered and how to make a claim.

Additional benefits of Manual Lymph Drainage:

  • Detoxifying
  • Reduces bruising
  • Minimises swelling
  • Helps pain management
  • Increases speed of recovery
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Softens tissue
  • Increases mobility
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