The term MLD is becoming a buzzword in the bodywork industry, especially among post-surgical clients. It drastically reduces swelling, speeds up healing, and improves the overall outcome.

MLD, manual lymphatic drainage, is often referred to as “massage” but it’s really not that at all. If you look up the definition of massage it usually uses terms like “knead” or “manipulate muscles or tissues.”

MLD is a treatment that utilizes incredibly light touch. The pressure is not meant to sink into the musculature since the lymphatic vessels are directly under the skin. Too much pressure will not be effective.

The lymphatic system is often not discussed in anatomy classes. It works in conjunction with the circulatory system to help remove excess fluid out of the body via the kidneys. The lymphatic vessels are quite small and directly under the skin so any excessive pressure will prevent the fluid from moving. A therapist must practice this light touch as it does not come easy to most.

Clients who have undergone BBLs, liposuction, or tummy tucks often follow a series of post-op protocols for a better outcome. MLD should be a part of that protocol. Often, the client is in a lot of pain and the MLD helps reduce the pain, helps reduce the swelling, helps reduce the development of seromas and, most of all, helps the client relax. However, it should be noted that there is no clinical data to prove the benefits of MLD. Also, keep in mind that everybody is different when it comes to healing.

It is also important to note that MLD does NOT allow for fluid to be exuded out of surgical wounds. This is out of the scope of practice for any licensed massage therapist and against MLD protocols. All fluid is moved internally and, often times, the client feels the need to go to the bathroom.

 Some therapists utilize ultrasound with MLD as the soundwaves can help reduce seromas. Again, there is no clinical evidence that ultrasound is more beneficial than just MLD. There was a study done in India in 2014 that looked at each treatment and the results were comparative. There will always be clients who benefit more than others.


Lymph System image: Designed by Bezyanova (Image #6088026 at