Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Manual Lymphatic Drainage


Authored by Amy Beaith-Johnson @lymph.well


Hey there! Have you ever heard about a Lymphatic Massage? Or as it's more commonly known Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)? Well, if you've ever been curious about what it is or how it can help, I'm here to share my journey with you! 

As a woman in her 40's with primary lymphedema in both legs, I'm a big fan of MLD and how it helps me manage my lymphedema. Manual lymphatic drainage is one of my key self-care pillars, and I believe it’s something every lymphie should explore to better their self-management.


A Beautiful Discovery

I spent years living with lymphedema before I heard about lymphatic massage or saw a massage therapist for my legs. Being from a small town, it was hard to access this kind of information before the internet was buzzing like it is today. Ironically, I found out about lymphatic massage while living remotely, far from a big city. I had gotten a cellulitis infection, while I was working in Algonquin Park. A co-worker mentioned to me that she had heard of this lymphatic drainage massage technique that could potentially be helpful. I was so grateful for the insight and was keen to give it a try.


My first session was very helpful but it was also kind of uncomfortable to be honest. One thing that we are recognizing more and more in the lymphedema community is how lymphedema can affects our emotions, and how this can impact us physically. Here I was on a massage table with someone focusing on and paying extra special care to a part of me I had been trying so hard to hide.


One trap we can fall into as lymphies is being affected by body dysmorphia, or disassociating from our lymphie limb. This can show up as ignoring the affected limb, touching it as little as possible or wishing it would simply go away all together. Any act that separates our lymphedema from us and tries to strip it from our identity. 


Tell me, do you take the time to look at your skin every day? To physically touch your body? Do you put cream on before you put on your compression? Are you mindful in getting ready or do you simply grab your compression and put it on quickly without thought as you hop into your day?


If you fall into the latter category you might be missing good opportunities like I was, to notice how your limb is doing and to monitor any subtle changes. It's important to take the time to check in with yourself and learn about the things that help your lymphedema and what makes it worse.

Listening to the body whispers is easier than waiting for the screams for our attention.

That first MLD session left a lasting impact on me. I started seeing a Certified Lymphedema Massage Therapist regularly after returning to university. She really helped me tune into my body's needs and helped me feel how my lymph was flowing, which was so neat! Slowly but surely, the more I listened to myself and my needs, the burden of living with Lymphedema had begun to lift.


As I got older, and moved around to different cities for school and work, I made sure to make time for manual lymphatic drainage, seeking out new therapists wherever I was living. Over the years it became a key part of my self-care routine. Years later, when I finally settled in Edmonton, it was during my pregnancies that my view of MLD changed again. Now, I not only looked at it as part of my lymph management routine, but as a cherished act of self care. It was a time for me to help manage my swelling but also to spend some quality me-time checking in with myself. It was soothing, relaxing, and an act to fill up my own cup that I really began to enjoy. I also loved knowing that it was beneficial for both of us - mama and baby-to-be.

Cost of MLD

While MLD is recognized as a treatment for people with Lymphedema, it is not covered by provincial health insurance in any of the provinces. If you happen to have additional private insurance plans through your employer, these plans will often cover $250-$500/year on average for massage. This really doesn’t go far when getting both my legs massaged for 90 minutes costs me around $130! Over the years, I asked my therapists to teach me how to perform self drainage massage at home, so that I could activate my lymph pathways anytime. Learning this was so empowering!! I know some lymphies who have brought their spouses, or parents to appointments so they can learn the techniques too!


I do self-massage techniques every day, a bit in the morning, before putting on my Bauerfeind Curaflow Compression, and throughout my day when I’m taking a break. My husband helps me massage my legs too. My family and I do what we call puppy pile ups on the couch, each taking turns to massage each others feet while we are watching a movie or show. It’s a lesson I want to pass on to them to give their bodies some self-care time anytime they can.


At the end of my day, when I hop into bed, I will do 5-10 minutes of self-massage while I’m laying down to help activate my lymph drainage detox pathways before I got to sleep. Then I put on my night compression bandages. It’s calming and relaxing, and helps me keep in tune with my body.

As someone who has had chronic cellulitis infections, I cherish this time to check on my skin and keep watch for any changes I need to be aware of.

Even though I use self-MLD everyday, I still have a certified MLD therapist on my health care team. My MLD therapist helps me manage flare-ups, prepare my limbs before getting measured for garments, and surgery recovery. They can help you see your body in a new way & teach you new things, if you are open to it.


Self-massage resources:

  •  Leah from Lymph Love Club, is a CLT and massage therapist, she has videos, and demonstrations about lymphatic drainage & runs a lymph clinic in Austin Texas.
  • Lisa Gainsley, The Lymphatic Message, has an amazing book called The Book of Lymph with diagrams to help you learn how to do self-massage sequences at home.
  • Kelly Stern from Cancer Rehab PT, has great YouTube videos from massage to dry brushing, etc.


A resource I value is Dr Vodder School certified therapist listings. This has been helpful finding therapists in Canada and even when travelling on vacation. It’s nice to know if there are people who can help you where you are going, in case you get a flare up.

Consistency is key

Like James Clear talks about in his book Atomic Habits, it can be easier to get a new habit to stick if we tack it onto another habit we already do. So for me, this is waking up in the morning, first thing I do is 5 minutes of self MLD before I hop out of bed, then do stretches and a few sun salutations, dry brush, then put on my Bauerfeind Curaflow Compression.


I hope this was relatable, helpful, and has inspired you to learn a bit more about MLD and what it could look like as part of your Lymphedema self-care.



Lymph Well to Live Well!

About Amy

Amy-Beaith-Johnson is a Canadian Lymphedema influencer and activist who is passionate about teaching others the power of self-care!

For more self-care tips, Lymph-loving recipes, or help with building a Lymphedema self-care routine check out her website!



Instagram: @lymph.well