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What Is MLD (Manual Lymph Drainage) and no it does not involve hoses :)

So what’s exactly is Manual Lymph Drainage?
Rose City MLD has a lovely and simple description which I include in quotes here.

“Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is a massage-like technique of gentle, precise, repetitive movements which stimulate the motor activity of the lymphatic vessels.” The lymph system is our body’s other circulatory system but it has no pump like the heart for the blood vessels. Sometimes our lymph system is sluggish, or impaired and needs a boost. MLD provides that boost and helps the lymph flow through the body at an accelerated rate.

“Because one of the main tasks of the lymphatic system is to remove excess water, foreign substances (‘toxins’) and protein molecules from the tissue spaces, MLD has a detoxifying effect.” I like to think of the body like a refrigerator. If it’s like mine, there’s food that’s good to eat (nutrients & water) and food that’s wrapped up in tinfoil and should probably be ditched (toxins). The MLD draws those substances out of the interstitial fluid or in-between spaces and allows them to either be used by the body as food or be eliminated as waste.  Protein molecules, in particular, are too big to go back into the circulatory system and unless they’re picked up by the lymph system they can hang out in your tissues causing inflammation, cellulitis, congested feeling connective tissue and as it progresses turning into fibrotic tissue, aka skin that feels hard. Removing the excess proteins from the body is an amazing benefit of MLD. 

“The other primary function of the lymph system is to circulate immune cells, serving as the body’s main defense against pathogens.” MLD is the Paul Revere of your immune system. As it increases the flow of lymph to your lymph nodes, the lymph carries the message of what kinds of stuff is in your body that the T-cells and B-cells should be responding to. The faster they get the information, the quicker they can mount a response.

MLD also offers a whole host of other benefits:

  • It’s sedating of the sympathetic nervous system — aka it’s a mega chill pill.
  • It’s also an analgesic — aka it’s like advil flowing through your lymph system.
  • And it’s the only bodywork that deals directly with affecting swelling, inflammation and edema. 

“MLD ‘exercises’ the lymphatic system, helping to increase its effectiveness.” And there’s evidence that the doing MLD can train your lymphatic system to continue to be more effective.


I asked some clients to share with me their experience of MLD. 

Rachel says,”MLD seems to kind of tie things together for me. When I do other self-care practices like keep myself hydrated and doing movement that jives with my body, MLD seems to help things sync together better than without it. It has also reduced swelling in my legs.

Austin reports, “What it feels like for me personally to get MLD is to get to relax, REALLY relax, and feel just pleasant comfort, which is a big deal because with fibromyalgia, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to experience positive feelings during clinical treatments. It feels like a super gentle movement of my skin, usually for me it’s been on my neck and face, but also my legs and arms (I’m forgetting other places lol). During treatment, I feel like there’s a gentleness that other forms of massage don’t bring me. I know that I have experienced better sleep after MLD treatments, and I am also thirsty! This is a great thing! I love that all kinds of moisture is moving around in my body, which is really the point.

Jen says, “Receiving MLD is very gentle, and at the same time, an intense experience for me.  Gentle as it only includes small movements of the skin that are in no way painful.  Intense in that my lymphatic glands have never had this kind of attention, yet as soon as the massage begins, they say “YES!  Thank you! I WAS needing some support, here!”  As my head, neck, and chest are treated, I can feel a tingle of warmth from my toes, up through my inner leg and into my torso.  It is a pleasant feeling, like something is being woken up and gently encouraged to move.

My body responded to MLD rather dramatically after the first two or three sessions, and has leveled off to a new set-point during the past several weeks.   The first day of treatment I did not feel significantly different.  Day two I noticed that my torso felt less congested, somehow.  Breathing was easier, my hips moved easier, I could bend and stretch and twist with greater ease. Very effective at addressing my IBS, with a reduction of symptoms that has continued for the past many weeks.  Ankle and foot swelling are better than they been in ten years.  Fluid in my legs, butt and belly was also reduced significantly.”

Less congestion, increased movement, reduced swelling, better sleep, easier breathing, decreased IBS, and deep relaxation are just some of the benefits of receiving MLD. MLD is all about enhancing a system that is already happening in your body every day. Bodies are magic!



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