Lymphatic drainage is often known as MLD. We use this to remove swelling, improve healing, and improve the results of cosmetic procedures. We’ve written a lot about this type of gentle massage on our site, so let’s take a step backwards and find out–what is the lymphatic system?
What is the lymphatic system?
If there was a skip that our body could dump all the rubbish into that it needs to get rid of then, this would be your lymphatic system.
Our body transposes all the waste that we need to get rid of into lymph fluid. This runs around our body in a network of vessels, nodes and organs until it eventually reaches our blood and is expelled or cleaned and reintroduced into our system.
We mention blood, which is pumped around our circulatory system by the heart. The lymphatic system is a more delicate system, much like this which sits just under the surface of our skin. With one major difference. Your lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump. It runs by movement and water.
This is why it’s easy for it to become overloaded, which shows as swelling often in arms and legs; your limbs and otherwise known as lymphedema. It’s for this reason that your therapist needs to use lymphatic drainage to speed up the flow with their hand or specialist machine; think of MLD as a helping hand for your lymphatic system.
What comprises your lymph system?
What are the 6 lymphatic organs?
lymphoid organs comprise:
- Bone marrow, a Primary lymphoid organs. The bone marrow is a spongy tissue found in the bones…
- Thymus a Primary lymphoid organ. The thymus is located behind the sternum above the heart…
- Lymph nodes secondary. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped tissues found along the lymphatic vessels…
- the spleen, secondary
- the tonsils, secondary
- the mucous membranes, secondary
The bone marrow is a spongy tissue that resides in the bone. Most of the cells of the immune system are produced there and then they also multiply. These cells move through the blood to other organs and tissues. At birth, many bones contain red bone marrow, which actively forms cells of the immune system. Throughout our lives, we converted more and more red bone marrow into adipose tissue. In adulthood, only a few of our bones still contain red bone marrow, including the ribs, sternum, and pelvis.
The thymus is located in your chest, just above your heart, behind the sternum, above the heart. This small glandular organ stores immature lymphocytes (white blood cells) and helps us fight disease such as cancer. It reaches full maturity in children, and then slowly turns into adipose tissue.
Special types of immune system cells, called thymus cell lymphocytes (T cells) mature in the thymus. These cells coordinate the processes of the innate and adaptive immune systems. T cells move around the body and constantly monitor the surfaces of all cells for changes.
Small, bean-shaped tissues found along the lymphatic vessels. We have hundreds of lymph nodes around our human body, deep within e.g. our lungs and heart. But also closer to the surface, such as under the arm or groin around the pubic region. Lymph nodes are found from the head to around the knee area.
Lymph nodes act as filters. Several cells of the immune system trap germs in the lymph nodes and activate the formation of special antibodies in the blood. Swollen or painful lymph nodes are a sign that the immune system is active, for example, to fight infection.
Your spleen is the largest of the lymphatic organs. It’s found in the upper left part of the abdomen below the diaphragm and handles various tasks. It stores different cells of the immune system. They move through the blood to other organs. Phagocytes in the spleen serve as filters for germs entering the bloodstream.
It breaks down red blood cells (erythrocytes). It stores and breaks down blood platelets (platelets), which handle blood clotting. There is always a lot of blood flowing through the spleen tissue. This fabric is very soft. In case of serious injuries, such as an accident, the spleen can easily tear. Usually, surgery is necessary, otherwise there is a risk of bleeding. If it is necessary to remove the spleen completely, other organs of the immune system can do their job.
Also part of the immune system. Because of their location in the throat and palate, they can prevent germs from entering the body through the mouth or nose. Tonsils also contain many white blood cells that kill germs.
There are different tonsils: palatine tonsils, polyps and lingual tonsil. All of these tonsil structures together are sometimes called Waldeyer’s ring because they form a ring from the mouth and nose around the opening to the neck.
There is also lymphoid tissue on the side of the throat that can perform the functions of the palatine tonsils when they are removed.
The intestine plays a central role in the body’s defense against germs: More than half of the body’s own cells that produce antibodies are found in the intestinal wall, particularly in the latter part of the small intestine and in the appendix. These cells recognise foreign matter and then label and destroy them. They also store information about substances so they can react faster next time. The large intestine also contains harmless bacteria called stomach or intestinal flora.
A healthy intestinal flora makes it difficult for germs to spread and penetrate the body.
Mucous membranes also support the immune system in other parts of the body, such as the airways, urinary tract, and vaginal mucosa. The cells of the immune system are located directly under the mucous membranes and prevent bacteria and viruses from accumulating there.
Why do I need manual lymphatic drainage post surgery?
When you have surgery, particularly cosmetic surgery, your body is in shock because the injury to it occurs fast, and with no warning. It’s response to this is to flood the area with healing properties in your blood. Remember, blood is pumped with force by your heart.
Once our body as used these healing nutrients, we’re left with plasma, which seeps through from our blood into our excess fluids to be expelled.
But, if the lymphatic system isn’t running as fast as the venous system which is pumped by your heart; you end up with swelling.
More importantly, you also find that your healing is slower, as until we have expelled the backed up toxins, there is no more space for the heart to pump more healing properties through our blood.
It’s like an internal motorway pile up. In comes Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage.
So manual draining is so important to healing and health in general.
In addition, the techniques we use in our massages offer more than physical therapy for lymphoedema of e.g. your leg. The benefit is also cosmetic. The simple light upward motion, strokes fluid which also contains some melted fat (vaser liposuction), to encourage fluid movement so your circulation system can run optimally.
This certified technique also moves any unsightly fat which was melted and has now congealed together into your waste system and then out rather than sitting in hard lumps under the surface of your skin.
And therefore, you shouldn’t sidestep the treatment if you have had plastic surgery. You may want to watch Karen from Essential Feeling explain this further on YouTube.
Does MLD hurt?
No, not even post surgery when moving over inflamed tissue. Many people think that it will hurt rather than soothe post surgery. But, because the lymphatic system sits just under the skin, we don’t need to work deep enough to break down muscle as we would with another type of massage.
In fact, as the purpose is to reduce swelling and improve self care, by gently moving fluid up from each limb and towards the drainage points in your chest, and groin (predominantly), there are additional benefits. You’re in less pain as you’re not so swollen and more mobile/ flexible as you’ve helped drain this swelling away.
What’s the purpose of compression garments?
After plastic surgery, you’ll receive professional compression garments to wear. These are to hold all the tissue in the place where your surgeon intends it to be.
There is a downside in that because your lymphatic system is so delicate, the garments and bandages don’t allow the fluid to flow that easily because the tight material crushes the lymph vessels. Remember, they’re just under the skin, not deep like muscles. And so, as a provider of MLD, it is our job to have you remove these garments for the duration of your manual drainage massage so we can use our circular motions and brush movements to stimulate these and reduce the buildup of fluid.
It will also help if you move. Something like walking or a gentle stretch can do wonders. You don’t need, nor should you, be going and doing massive exercises in the gym.
Other medical conditions which may be helped by improving the movement of the lymphatic system
Relieve Facial swelling
Blood pressure and breathing
Treating rheumatoid arthritis
Whilst you can do some MLD techniques yourselves at home, predominantly involving dry brushing in an upward (not downward) motion, we always advise involving trained professionals such as ourselves.