The Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Posted: 5th March 2018


By: Emma Harvey Lawrence

The Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage

The Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

This article is intended to collate recent research in Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) for a number of conditions and individual symptoms.

There is a wide array of research that supports the use of MLD in various settings within healthcare and it shows that there is a key place for physical therapies to support rehabilitation or when managing general wellbeing.

This is of course just a snapshot of a few areas, where MLD can be beneficial.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory condition and can be referred to as inflammatory-erosive arthritis. It’s connection to the lymphatic system, due to the immune defences prolonged inflammatory response, damages cells and interrupts the usual function of others. By encouraging circulation within the lymphatic system, MLD serves as a useful therapy alongside good nutrition, conventional medicines and protocols.


Primary lymphedema is caused by developmental lymphatic vascular anomalies. Secondary lymphedema is acquired and arises as a result of an underlying systemic disease, trauma, or surgery.

Lymphedema tends to be more common in women and it’s more likely to be located in the lower extremities. Upper extremity lymphedema tends to be caused by Breast Cancer treatments – see below for further information.

MLD and various decongestion techniques helps to manage the condition and associated complications of Lymphedema. If left undiagnosed or managed well Lymphedema can lead to serious skin complaints.

Skin in chronic lymphedema is prone to fissures, ulceration, and recurrent cellulitis.

A study conducted by Lopera et al. using near-infrared imaging showed that Lymphatic activity increased significantly after MLD, with relative increases being maintained after a short time period of compression garment application.


We are understanding more and more about the important link between our gut and our brain and how they communicate more than just the musings of feeling peckish or full.

One Korean study that assessed the use of MLD on participants exhibiting signs of psychological stress, showed that the application of MLD from the abdominal area for 20 minutes increased participants relaxation. This was determined by using an Electroencephalography (EEG) which showed overall that MLD or abdominal massage reduced brain arousal.

This helps to show that physical therapies are a useful adjunct for mental health and holistic wellbeing rather than just the basic mechanics of the body.

Breast cancer treatment-related lymphedema (BCRL)

MLD can be very beneficial for women experiencing BCRL. At times it may not be noticeable right away with a treatment but studies show that even when women do not show significant signs of decreasing symptoms, an MRI scan has helped to identify tissue composition changes associated with MLD therapy.

It has also been shown to help aid shoulder movement and quality of life for BCRL patients.


A Salon in Japan found women who were experiencing menopausal symptoms such as edema and fatigue and provided each woman with simplified MLD for 30 minutes. Through saliva testing both before and after treatment, they found that both Cortisol (sometimes called the ‘stress hormone’) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) reduced by 44% and 27% respectively.

Feedback from the women who received the one-time simplified lymphatic drainage included ‘my legs feel lighter’ and ‘I feel better’. Suggesting that MLD could be one of many therapeutic aids for reducing menopausal symptoms and increasing overall wellbeing.

Other areas

There are also studies which support the use of MLD for treating and reducing the appearance of cellulite and the symptoms of swelling after cosmetic style surgeries.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of beneficial associations with MLD but it does give you an idea as to how versatile it can be.

If you’d like to find out about how MLD was created, see our blog The Origins of Manual Lymphatic Drainage.

If you’d like to know more about MLD or would be interested in booking an initial session, please feel free to call us on 01359 408 011 or contact us via our ‘Contact Us‘ page.


Bouta, E.M., Bell, R.D., Rahimi, H., Xing, L., Wood, R.W., Bingham III, C.O., Ritchlin, C.T. and Schwarz, E.M., 2018. Targeting lymphatic function as a novel therapeutic intervention for rheumatoid arthritis. Nature Reviews Rheumatology.

Grada, A.A. and Phillips, T.J., 2017. Lymphedema: Pathophysiology and clinical manifestations. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 77(6), pp.1009-1020.

Lopera, C., Worsley, P.R., Bader, D.L. and Fenlon, D., 2017. Investigating the Short-Term Effects of Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Compression Garment Therapies on Lymphatic Function Using Near-Infrared Imaging. Lymphatic research and biology, 15(3), pp.235-240.

Shim, J.M., Yeun, Y.R., Kim, H.Y. and Kim, S.J., 2017. Effects of manual lymph drainage for abdomen on the brain activity of subjects with psychological stress. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(3), pp.491-494.

Inoue, K. and Maruoka, H., 2017. Effects of simplified lymph drainage on the body: in females with menopausal disorder. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(1), pp.115-118.

Cho, Y., Do, J., Jung, S., Kwon, O. and Jeon, J.Y., 2016. Effects of a physical therapy program combined with manual lymphatic drainage on shoulder function, quality of life, lymphedema incidence, and pain in breast cancer patients with axillary web syndrome following axillary dissection. Supportive Care in Cancer, 24(5), pp.2047-2057.

Donahue, P.M., Crescenzi, R., Scott, A.O., Braxton, V., Desai, A., Smith, S.A., Jordi, J., Meszoely, I.M., Grau, A.M., Kauffmann, R.M. and Sweeting, R.S., 2017. Bilateral Changes in Deep Tissue Environment After Manual Lymphatic Drainage in Patients with Breast Cancer Treatment-Related Lymphedema. Lymphatic research and biology, 15(1), pp.45-56.

de Godoy, J.M.P. and de Godoy, M.D.F.G., 2011. Treatment of cellulite based on the hypothesis of a novel physiopathology. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 4, p.55.