Posted on: July 22, 2016 at 9:00 am
Last updated: September 13, 2017 at 12:43 pm

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Margarette is the picture of health, so a mini health crisis came as a surprise. In the same week her divorce was to be final, she was scheduled as an outpatient for an ablation (a type of heart surgery) on Wednesday and replacement breast implant surgery on Friday.

The post-surgical recovery would have most people flat on their backs for more than just a few days. Imagine my surprise when she answered her door for a manual lymph drainage massage the day after the heart surgery.


The immune system does not react well to being over-stressed. Margarette was experiencing a very stressful time in her life. She had swelling in her right leg from the malfunctioning valve in her heart. The collapsed breast implant left her chest feeling heavy.

As a medical massage therapist, I suggested she relieve some of the discomfort with a medical massage modality called Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD). This specialized technique is designed to stimulate the immune system and help the lymphatic system achieve healing in the body.


Margarette received MLD both before and immediately after her surgeries. Pre-operative MLD cleans the area so that there is little bleeding, creating an environment that decreases pain levels and the chance for infection. This primed her lymph system to start moving toxins out of her body before the surgeries.

The effects of MLD last up to 72 hours, depending upon the duration of the massage. The result is that it slows the amount of bleeding during surgery and causes the body to begin detoxifying the chemicals from the anesthesia and other medications immediately.

The post-operative session kept the process going, diminishing pain levels to the point where Margarette didn’t need any medication. She recovered so quickly, she was back at work by the following Wednesday, missing only five workdays.

How Does Manual Lymph Drainage Work?

Leg massage

MLD uses very gentle, precise strokes to promote the release of fluid build-up in the body called edema. Any interruption in lymph circulation can impair the functioning of the body’s immune system, its ability to repair damaged tissue, and cause chemical imbalance in the body. If left untreated, the swelling could potentially lead to a more serious medical condition called lymphedema.

Edema is a condition defined as swelling that occurs when interstitial fluid builds up in the muscles of the body. Lymphedema is a build up of fluid in the lymph system.

Unlike edema, lymphedema can become a chronic condition that has consequences for the whole body.

  1. Swelling
  2. pain
  3. numbness
  4. sensation of pressure
  5. increased susceptibility to infection
  6. loss of mobility
  7. and impaired wound healing are all a result of chronic lymphedema.

Chronic swelling has four levels of manifestation: micro edema, mild or pitting edema, non-pitting edema, and severe hardening. The first two can be reversed and usually completely alleviated with MLD. The last two cannot be reversed but MLD may help relieve the symptoms.

Some reasons why the lymph system will respond with edema include illness, lack of exercise, injury (i.e. sports, surgery, disease) and being on an airplane flight. MLD helps both acute and chronic conditions. Types of conditions that MLD cannot help include kidney disease (nephritis), leaking blood vessels, varicose veins, third degree burns, congestive heart failure, untreated high blood pressure, obstructions in the circulation system (thrombosis or clots), and active cancers.

Most people learn about the effects of lymphedema when they experience cancer. Based on client feedback, very little information is disseminated to non-cancer patients about how to take care of the swelling they experience after a sports injury, accident, or surgical procedure. Not very many people are told about the benefits of MLD prior to surgical events or the impact on healing after surgery.

I have discussed MLD with heart surgeons, podiatrists, chiropractors, and orthopedic and plastic surgeons. It is my concern that few know how to fully utilize MLD or pay any attention to the role that edema plays in healing. Doctors don’t seem to be addressing the impact chronic swelling has when treating conditions that won’t heal appropriately.

I have used MLD to treat clients who have experienced injuries from sports (acute and chronic), accidents or surgeries; cancer patients in remission, Parkinson’s patients, pregnant women, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, allergies and sinus problems. I recommend MLD for breast cancer prevention and maintenance.

If you knew that this natural, non-invasive treatment was available and it works, why wouldn’t you do it?

Here’s a video demonstrating MLD:

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