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There are numerous reasons why someone might utilize MLD or manual lymphatic drainage. Most notably, those with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndromes, post-surgery (cosmetic and medical) and even those affected by COVID-19.  MLD has become a very commonly sought-after therapy among those who continue to experience symptoms due to a previous COVID infection. To understand how MLD works we must know what the main systems are.

Lymphatic System

Up until a few years ago, compared to other systems in the body, the lymphatic system had often been underestimated and under-appreciated. I would argue this to be true even today within the medical community. How is it that a network of tissue, designed to fight infections and rid the body of waste including abnormal cells be overlooked? Beats me! But the good news is, science has been making strides in research and it won’t be long before we learn even more.

The lymphatic system is a complex system made up of vessels, nodes, and organs that work together within the immune system to move lymph fluid through the body. This fluid has infection-fighting properties and assists in driving and removing waste. It is important to note that lymph only moves in one direction, and that is toward the neck.

The Glymphatic system works similarly to the lymphatic system, but it works primarily in the brain. It was recently discovered and is said to act as a microscopic waste clearance system that utilizes a unique system of perivascular tunnels formed by astroglial cells to promote efficient elimination of soluble proteins and metabolites from the central nervous system.

Chronic Fatigue/Fibromyalgia

There is a lot of symptom overlap between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Pain, anxiety, fatigue, disruptive sleep, and enlarged lymph nodes are just a handful.  What usually separates one from the other is the intensity of pain for those with fibromyalgia and the intensity of fatigue for those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

As one of the most common chronic pain conditions, fibromyalgia patients have seen some benefits from MLD.  MLD is said to help with pain relief, stiffness, quality of sleep and general health status.  The gentle contact and specificity in technique offers a relief by stimulating the autonomic nervous system while it helps shunt lymph flow in the right direction. Most patients report a very relaxing state following a session, very similar to other modalities such as craniosacral therapy or acupuncture.

MLD for Post-Surgery Recovery

Most surgical procedures whether intended for the purposes of health or cosmetics, will to some degree compromise the lymphatic vessels that run throughout the body. The body however, still needs to handle the swelling, pain and detoxification of the tissues (and most times it does, but at its own pace). Lymphatic congestion is a major factor that leads to inflammation and potential for infection. This is where MLD comes in. MLD allows for the lymph to be rerouted to more healthier areas in the body while the temporarily compromised area of the body focuses on healing.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage for COVID-19 Long Haulers

Individuals with lingering symptoms long after having recovered from COVID-19 and having tested negative for Covid-19 have been referred to as COVID Long haulers or having post-COVID syndrome. In addition to symptoms like brain fog, memory trouble, difficulty breathing, and disturbed taste/smell, long haulers often experience an overwhelming feeling of fatigue following recovery. MLD may be beneficial in assisting with relieving the lymphatic system, which is affected with a COVID-19 diagnosis. Although it is still unclear why some individuals are more likely to develop post-COVID syndrome, it seems post-COVID syndrome occurs in people who have had mild COVID symptoms. Cases vary from person to person because different organ systems are affected person to person Focusing on modalities that are known to support the immune system is a great start to achieving some relief. I would recommend that one ensures a robust lymphatic system to start. I won’t make any claims, but an optimally functioning lymphatic system is a step in the right direction! Optimizing the body’s ability to handle its lymphatic load lessens the total burden on the body.

How MLD is Performed

Manual lymphatic drainage is a manual hands on technique that assists in moving lymph fluid. With this technique, fluid buildup in one area can be influenced and manually manipulated to move away from an area of stagnation.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage is NOT a massage. Unlike a traditional massage, MLD is focused more superficially. MLD works on the skin and area above the fascia, and not muscle. I’ll tell you from experience, the treatment is just as relaxing! Depending on what area is being worked on, lymph nodes in that area are activated first with gentle and specific motions in order to ensure lymph is directed towards an area that is not already backed up.

General benefits of MLD are increased lymph production, increase in speed of lymph flow throughout the body, reduced swelling, reduced sinus congestion, pain relief, relaxation, and decrease pressure on nerve tissue.

Final Thoughts

Optimizing all systems in your body is great especially a system designed to fight infections and rid the body of waste. Whether you fall into one of the categories above that may benefit from this technique, MLD is an excellent modality to know that is available for you and your loved ones.

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