MLD – Manual Lymphatic Drainage for health & beauty

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is the secret behind many a healthy body and beautiful face.  It has the ability to boost the immune system, clear sinuses and can stop a cold in its tracks.  It’s an absolute cosmetic treat but also has a very serious use in helping lymphoedema.

MLD was developed in the 1930s in France by physician, Dr Emil Vodder and his wife Estrid. Vodder noticed how people suffering from chronic catarrhal and sinus infections tended to have swollen lymph glands and, much against medical practice at the time, started to work with the lymph nodes.  The massage he developed had a circular, pumping effect which increases the movement of the lymphatic system of the body.

Professor E Ernst of the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter agrees the treatment is effective: ‘It reduces lymph oedema through enhancing lymph flow,’ he confirms.

Patsy, 54, was treated for cervical cancer six years ago and developed lymphoedema.  ‘About five weeks after my operation I realised something was wrong,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t pull my jeans over my thighs.  The sight of my legs ballooning was quite horrible.’  Patsy turned to MLD.  Her insurance paid for one course and her GP funded another. ‘I notice a huge difference,’ she says, ‘It definitely eases the lymphoedema, it keeps it down.  I just wish more doctors knew about it and referred their patients.’

MLD is nothing like normal massage.  There is no pounding of muscles, no probing and pulling; it feels like having your skin softly stroked by a child’s gentle fingers.  It’s a light, repetitive movement with an almost hypnotic effect.  After an hour I felt as if I were floating in a deep blue lagoon – I have never been so relaxed.  MLD practitioner and teacher Dee Jones explains that the relaxation comes about because the massage affects the nervous system, instigating a change from the normal stressed ‘day time’ state of the nervous system to the ‘night time’ state we use when we’re asleep.

It also boosts your immune system by boosting the lymphatic system (the body’s waste disposal service).  People who have regular MLD simply don’t get so many colds and infections.  Any colds they do get disappear in hours or days rather than dragging on for weeks and sinuses drain as if by magic.

However many people use MLD purely as a beauty treatment.  ‘It really can work miracles,’ says Joy Salem who combines MLD with her ‘fingertip facelift’ beauty treatment. ‘It punches in the jawline, tones the features and reduces lines.’

‘Its effects on the skin are pretty spectacular,’ agrees Dee Jones. ‘When you get the garbage out of the body it gives the skin a chance to regenerate.  It won’t make you thinner as such but it will certainly make your face look thinner.  It tightens up all the little saggy baggy bits, all the puffiness.  To a degree it’s like a face-lift without surgery.’

‘It takes time and commitment,’ warns Dee. ‘You have to free the fat and the water that is trapped by proteins but it will clear.’

A one-off treatment is pleasant and is great for stress; it will make a difference to puffy eyes and if you have a blocked nose you’ll notice a swift change as well.  But if you want to build up your immune system you would ideally have treatment three times a week for the first two weeks and then tail off after that, perhaps having a session every two to three months or if a particular problem arises.

GPs can and do refer patients to MLD practitioners but generally only for lymphoedema.

Regrettably there are some people who are not advised to attempt MLD.  Anyone who has suffered from TB needs to avoid it as there is a possibility that TB molecules stored in the lymph system could be reawakened.  And anyone with heart problems (particularly cardiac odema) is also advised against the treatment.

Also do make sure you experience genuine ‘Vodder technique’ MLD.  ‘Many beauticians purport to do MLD,’ warns Joy Salem. ‘But genuine MLD is a very gentle process while some of the machines that claim to help the lymph can actually do more harm than good.’

My verdict:  a superlative treatment.  Absolutely essential for anyone suffering from lymphoedema and lipodema.  Plus a cosmetic treat for everyone.  Do go for Vodder technique though – I haven’t found the mechanical forms of lymph drainage anywhere near as effective.

To learn more about the painful condition of lymphoedema:


An Arm & A Leg specialises in MLD (and other supportive therapies) for lymphoedema and lipodema:



*(Vol 352, Number 9132)


Tell me what you think

Have you tried MLD?  What did you think?  Do you suffer from lymphoedema?  What treatments have you tried?  Have you tried MLD and did it help or not?  Do let me know your experiences by commenting below.