What is Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD)? 

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a type of gentle hands-on therapy which is intended to encourage the natural drainage of lymph fluid, which carries waste products away from the tissues back toward the circulatory system to eventually be processed out of the body in via the kidneys. The lymph system has no pump, instead it depends on small, infrequent contractions of the smooth muscle cells in the walls of lymph vessels and the movement of skeletal muscles to move lymph through the vessels, up into the lymph nodes and then beyond the lymph nodes to the lymph ducts which return lymph to the cardiovascular system. Manual lymph drainage uses a specific amount of pressure (less than 9 ounces per square inch) and rhythmic circular movements to stimulate lymph flow and is generally a very pleasant and relaxing therapy.


Manual lymphatic drainage was pioneered by Danish doctors Emil and Estrid Vodder in the 1930’s for the treatment of chronic sinusitis and other immune disorders. While working on the French Riviera treating patients with chronic colds, the Vodders noticed these patients had swollen lymph nodes. In the 1930s, it was considered taboo to tamper with the lymphatic system due to the medical profession's poor understanding of this system. The Vodders were not deterred by this and, in 1932, began to study the lymph system, developing careful hand movements to increase lymphatic flow. In 1936, after four years of research, they introduced this technique in Paris, France. The Vodders eventually went on to found two primary schools, one in Walchsee, Austria and the other in Victoria, British Columbia, where their legacy lives on in teaching new generations their technique.

The schools constantly strive for scientific and treatment advancements and are dedicated to using the original therapy designed by the Vodders to treat conditions like post-operative swelling, acute injury edemas, chronic pain, venous insufficiencies, and lymphedema.

MLD is now recognized as a primary tool in lymphedema management. Therapists can today receive certification through special classes conducted by various organizations specializing in MLD, or through a complete lymphedema treatment certification course. The Vodder School offers advanced certification in Combined Decongestive Therapy, which is designed to prepare therapists to treat all forms of lymphedema.