Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) The Vodder Technique

MLD - the Vodder technique, is no ordinary lymphatic massage. It is a much more specialised and effective treatment that although very gentle, it packs a powerful effect through on the body.

Research in Australia, Europe and North America has proven its efficacy as a stand-alone treatment and in combination with other therapies.

Developed in France in 1932 by Dr Emil Vodder and his wife Estrid Vodder. MLD has grown to be the internationally most well known manual technique to assist lymph flow, aid in drainage of tissues and reduce swelling (oedema). In Brazil it is not uncommon for surgeons to prescribe MLD pre-surgery and then two weeks post surgery for all surgical patients.

The Vodder technique is very specific and all therapists need to complete extra studies to perform the treatment. The skin is stretched and torqued in a specific manner, based on scientific, physiological principles that have proven to encourage lymph flow. The strokes involve gentle skin-to-skin contact resulting in the skin being moved over the underlying tissue: this method of MLD works with the skin, not ON the skin. To facilitate this no oil used for the treatment and the technique always begins with treating the lymph nodes and lymph vessels found at the neck and the junction of the large lymph channels in the venous arch on both sides of the body. For MLD to be effective, use of the proper specialist technique and adaptation of the length of individual therapy sessions to meet the needs of the pathology concerned are essential. A typical MLD session requires 60 minutes, but may be extended to 90 minutes depending on the indication.

Who can benefit?

Lymphatic drainage massage can benefit people who are experiencing the following:

  • lymphedema

  • fibromyalgia

  • swelling or edema

  • skin disorders

  • fatigue

  • insomnia

  • stress

  • digestive problems

  • arthritis

  • migraine episodes

The authors of a 2015 systematic review concluded that lymphatic massage might be more effective than connective tissue massage in relieving symptoms of stiffness and depression in people living with fibromyalgia.

The effects of MLD

Decongestive/Tissue Drainage

Any swelling of the body – with the exceptions of cardiac (heart) and renal (kidney) oedema – can be successfully treated with MLD. The lymphatic system transports the lymphatic load (protein, fat, cellular and water load) in the right ventricle from the tissue back into the circulatory system. to put it plainly the lymph fluid is the waste removal system of the human body. Wherever “waste” (toxins, proteins, etc) is produced, the lymphatic system must act in order to drain such waste. The special MLD massage technique induces a pumping effect in the tissue. The lymphatic pathways’ own rhythm is accelerated to up to 20 times its normal rate. This enhanced drainage effect results in rapid decongestion and restoration of normal tissue condition

Sympatholytic Effect

Manual Lymph Drainage is very soothing. Clients generally doze off within minutes. Steady and rhythmic hand strokes by a good therapist are the prerequisite for successful treatment. If you are feeling very stressed then try a series of lymph drainage sessions. It is an amazing preventive measure against burnout.

Analgesic effect

Alternating light pressure acts on the mechanoreceptors(light touch receptors) which can subdue pain pathways. Because MLD is so gentle, it can be used without delay and may assist in pain reduction, reduced swelling and bruising. It accelerates and assists in the healing process. MLD also results in pain mediators being drained into the lymphatic system more rapidly, so that they are no longer active in the tissue. Any prolonged pain, such as pain generated by migraine, acute injuries, fibromyalgia, etc can be treated using lymph drainage.

Immunological effect

MLD helps accelerate the transportation of bacteria and allergens to the places where the body’s defense system is located (i.e. the lymph nodes) and where the increased rate of lymphatic drainage heightens the sensitization of lymphocytes and macrophages. The latter can travel more rapidly via the blood flow to reach the “scene of action” and intervention by phagocytosis, which in turn will improve overall immunity.


Contraindications occur when an increase in lymph flow would be detrimental to your health. Contraindications can either be absolute or relative.

Your GP or Specialist can override relative contraindications if they find good reason, but the absolute contraindication cannot be overridden.

Absolutely contraindicated

  • Any metastatic or systemic malignant condition must be excluded from MLD

  • MLD is not suited for the treatment of acute inflammation (caused by bacteria, viruses or foreign bodies)

  • Any thrombosis at risk of causing embolism is an absolute contraindication

Precautions are required if MLD is used in the following conditions

  • First trimester of pregnancy or complications with pregnancy **in an uncomplicated /normal pregnancy treatments are very useful throughout the pregnancy and very helpful for reducing the swelling on legs and breasts

  • Diabetes

  • Oedema caused by cardiac decompensation should not be drained manually, as this may exacerbate such decompensation

  • Hypotension

  • Bronchial asthma

  • Chronic inflammation

  • Thyroid dysfunction

  • Oedema following carcinoma treatments

MLD treatments are very different from the usual muscular massage that many people expect when they come to a massage therapist but I encourage you to give it a try, it can be an amazing treatment option and so relaxing.......

If you would like to get started with MLD treatments you can book here