When I first got interested in lymphatic drainage, I was surprised at how well it worked. Like, instantly! After one session, my friend’s edema in her swollen legs was visibly reduced and the pressure and pain were alleviated. She felt so much relief that tears came to her eyes.
When most people receive their first manual lymph drainage massage, they’re usually surprised that the hand technique is so very gentle. Lymphatic massage requires a controlled, yet light touch. Why so gentle?
Lymph vessels are delicate and tiny. The largest are less than one millimeter in diameter, and the precapillary channels are even smaller. The hand movements therefore must be rhythmic and gentle, but provide enough tension to slightly stretch the skin, which encourages the small segments of the lymph vessels to pump lymph fluid. This special type of lymphatic massage is called the Vodder Technique.
The Vodder Technique was developed by Dr. Emil and Estrid Vodder, a Danish couple who were working as massage therapists in Cannes, France in the 1930s. Their patients were predominantly English people taking a break from their damp homeland, which was presumed to cause chronic colds. The Vodders noted the swollen lymph nodes on so many of their patients and developed a technique for treating the condition. Their patients’ colds vanished. The Vodders developed and published their paper on their massage technique in 1936, and began teaching others how to achieve the same results.
The Vodder Technique consists of four different hand movements, depending on the area being massaged; Stationary Circles, the Rotary Technique, The Pump Technique, and the Scoop Technique. The amount of pressure varies, also depending on the area of the body. The main caution is to avoid exerting so much pressure that the tiny lymphangions’ valves are damaged. You can be sure that if the tissue reddens, then the pressure is too deep.
Physical activity and breathwork are the very best ways to keep your lymphatic system healthy. When you exercise, your lymph moves faster. When your heart is beating faster, your blood is circulating faster. The lymphatic system is interrelated with the circulatory system. When your blood is pumping, your lymph is moving, too. Exercise is a great detoxifier of the lymphatic system.
But sometimes, intense activity is not possible. You might be recovering from surgery, or fighting an illness. You might not be able to exercise, per doctor’s orders. This is common after cosmetic surgery like a tummy tuck or lifestyle lift, or eyelid lift. In these cases, manual lymphatic drainage is helpful for relieving swelling and puffiness.
You’d be surprised how much difference just 50 minutes of MLD can make. I have literally watched the puffiness around women’s eyes and mouth go down while I worked. I like to think of it as “encouraging” sluggish lymph vessels to pump. By simulating the action of normal lymph movement just beneath the surface of the skin, the Vodder Technique is the go-to method for draining lymph toward the lymph nodes in the body until the lymphangions are able to do it again on their own.
Curious how the lymphangions transport lymph? Here's exactly how the lymph vessels work.