Understanding Lympahtic system and its Function

Understanding Lympahtic system and its Function

Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage (MLD)

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a specialized form of massage developed by Danish physiotherapist Dr. Emil Vodder in 1932. Originally conceptualized in France, MLD has undergone extensive research and application, particularly in Europe, before its adoption in the United States and all over the world over the past three decades. While predominantly recognized for its effectiveness in treating lymphedema, its also beneficial in treating various musculoskeletal and neurological and it has shown promise in the supportive treatment of systemic diseases like scleroderma, lupus erythematosus, and gout, among others.

Understanding Lympahtic system and its Function

The lymphatic system is a complex and essential network within the body, simialr to the cardiovascular system but less prominently known. It comprises lymph vessels, nodes, and organs including the spleen, thymus, tonsils, and adenoids. This system not only plays a pivotal role in protecting the body from illness and maintaining fluid levels but also functions as the body’s “sewer system,” responsible for the removal of waste products and excess fluids from tissues.

As blood circulates through the body, some fluid leaks into the tissues, delivering nutrients to cells. After nourishing the cells, this fluid gathers waste materials like bacteria, dead cells, toxins, waste, infections,and even cancer cells, transforming into lymph. This lymph is then transported to small, bean-shaped lymph nodes located in the neck, armpits, groin, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. These nodes act as filters, removing harmful substances and are densely packed with white blood cells that are crucial for fighting infections.

The lymphatic system is important to immune function and nutrient transport. Once lymph is filtered, it is returned to the bloodstream via the thoracic duct, a significant vessel at the base of the neck, thereby helping to maintain the body’s fluid balance.

Disruption to this system, such as blockage, removal, or damage to the lymph vessels or nodes, can lead to fluid buildup, resulting in swelling known as lymphedema. Maintaining the health of the lymphatic system is vital for disease prevention and overall body balance. And this is why lymphatic drinagae massage is so imporetant.

Technique and Mechanism- Lymphatic drainage massage

MLD is characterized by its gentle, rhythmic hand movements, which significantly enhance the activity of the lymphatic system, known as lymphangiomotoricity. Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system lacks an intrinsic pump and depends on muscle contractions, external manual manipulation, or hydrostatic pressures to propel lymph. A typical session can increase lymph flow from a baseline of 10-12 beats per minute (bpm) to 100-120 bpm, with effects gradually diminishing over 48 hours.

Factors Influencing Lymphatic Flow

Several factors can impede the efficiency of the lymphatic system, including infections (bacterial or viral), lymphedema, surgical procedures, traumatic events, pregnancy, and certain lifestyle choices. A sedentary lifestyle, for example, can significantly slow lymphatic flow due to reduced muscle movement, which is necessary for promoting lymph circulation. Diet also plays a crucial role; high intake of sugars, proteins, fats, and caffeine, along with inadequate hydration, can further exacerbate the sluggishness of the lymphatic system.

Pathological Implications of a Compromised Lymphatic System

A dysfunctional lymphatic system can lead to various adverse conditions such as edema, where fluid accumulation causes stiffness and pain. Over time, the protein-rich lymph can harden, forming adhesions and fibrotic tissue, which contribute to pain, dysfunction, and restricted mobility. Stagnation of lymph flow can also foster the propagation of pathogens and inflammation, potentially leading to more serious health issues.

Contraindications for MLD

Despite its benefits, MLD is not suitable for everyone. Conditions such as major organ failure, cardiac decompensation, severe hypotension, acute infections, deep vein thrombosis, and certain stages of pregnancy, among others, may preclude the use of MLD. It is crucial for individuals with these conditions to consult healthcare professionals before undertaking MLD.

Some conditions that have been proven to benefit from MLD:

Neurological Conditions:

Musculoskeletal Issues:

Chronic Conditions:

Digestive and Dermatological Conditions:

Constipation and Diverticulosis: Lymphatic drainage therapy enhances gastrointestinal mobility and function, alleviating symptoms like bloating, discomfort, and constipation.


Cancer Research UK. (2020). The lymphatic system – transcript. [online] Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/what-is-cancer/the-lymphatic-system-transcript [Accessed 1 May 2024].

Rogers, G. (n.d.). Lymphatic Massage Keeping the Flow by. [online] Available at: https://medicine.umich.edu/sites/default/files/content/downloads/Rogers%20Gina%20December%207%20Lymphatic%20Massage.pdf.

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