What Is a Lymphatic Drainage Massage? - IFC Physiotherapy Singapore

I find the lymph system both absolutely fascinating and all too often over looked. My interest led me to train in Lymphatic Drainage Therapy also known as Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) and I haven’t looked back!

So what is it?

MLD is an advanced therapeutic method created in the 30’s by Dr Emil and Mrs Estrid Vodder.

It involves a gentle, rhythmic massage designed to stimulate the lymphatic vessels and naturally encourage the flow of lymph fluid.

OK fine, but what actually is the lymphatic system and why does it matter?

The lymphatic system is basically the body's second circulatory system.

It’s made up of network of tissues and organs that help the body dispose of toxins and metabolic waste products. It transports lymph, a clear fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body. 

It’s largely made up of vessels, similar to the circulatory systems veins and capillaries. These connect to lymph nodes, where the lymph fluid is filtered. Tonsils, adenoids, the spleen and thymus are all examples of nodes.

Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymph system has no "pump" of its own and relies on bodily movement and breathing to transport the lymph fluid.

The lymph nodes filter the fluid to detect bacteria or other immune threats, if any are found they then go into over drive to produce infection fighting white blood cells which are then transported back throughout the body.

When you are sick you can sometimes even feel the tender, swollen nodes in your neck, groin and underarms.

The most common problem to affect the lymphatic system is lymphadenopathy or chronic swelling of the nodes. This usually happens when the system is over worked, for example in very sedentary individuals or those fighting infections for prolonged periods of time. In serious cases it can result in node blockage, known as lymphedema.

Signs that your lymphatic system might need a helping hand:

  • Headaches
  • Brain Fog
  • Chronically swollen lymph nodes or tonsils
  • Fatigue
  • Recurrent sore throats
  • Excess mucus production, especially in the morning
  • Frequent ‘blocked’ ears with regular popping and/or ringing
  • Weak immune system
  • Poor bowel function
  • Unable to lose weight
  • Unexplained pain and stiffness in the morning
  • Bloating, swelling and heaviness in the extremities
  • Unexplained pain, pressure and stiffness in the shoulders
  • Unexplained skin issues

So what, and how does MLD help?

  • Encourages natural flow of lymph fluid
  • Clears congestion
  • Increases the carrying capacity of the lymph system, thereby increasing the bodies ability to fight infections
  • Aids post post operative healing and help to prevent possible complications
  • Reduces peripheral swelling of arms, legs, hands and feet
  • Excellent for reduction of swollen ankles in pregnancy
  • Softens skin
  • Reduces appearance of scars

So why choose MLD over regular Massage Therapy?

  • Two very different treatments
  • Massage applies enough pressure to reach underlying muscle tissue
  • MLD uses significantly less, and could be compared to the pressure you would use to stroke a newborn’s head
  • They have different treatment aims with massage therapy targeting the circulatory system, muscles and connective tissues as opposed to the lymphatic system
  • If in doubt please discuss with your Physiotherapist which treatment is best for you


Claudia Tiberi

Claudia Tiberi is IFC’s resident Italian and has more than 9 years physiotherapy experience. She is the company’s linguist and can treat clients in Italian, French, Spanish and English. She has worked with both the Italian national futsal and football squads as well as with the Italian Moto-GP and Super-Bike teams. She has a passion for gymnastics and competed professionally. She also specialises in pre- and post-natal exercise and care.