Manual lymph drainage (MLD) therapists help people who suffer from swelling
of the lymph nodes. Many people requiring treatment have developed problems
with lymph node swelling following radiation treatment for cancer. That includes
women who have had a mastectomy for breast cancer.
MLD therapists drain excess fluid from body tissues. That makes the swelling
go down. And it makes the patient feel better.
Therapists treat over 60 conditions. Some of these are swelling related
to muscle and ligament tears or stress and migraines.
Leslie Benson is a self-employed therapist in Minneapolis. She says adequate
treatment can often prevent or delay a lymphedema (the swelling) from progressing.
Patients who do not receive appropriate treatment are at risk of recurring
life-threatening infections, amputations and lymphatic carcinoma (cancer).
Manual lymph drainage therapists use massage to gently encourage drainage.
They also apply bandages to swollen areas, provide instruction in issues such
as hygiene and assist with exercise programs. Some therapists might instruct
patients on home care issues. They typically do an assessment and develop
an individual treatment plan for the patient.
MLD therapists are required to make reports to referring physicians. They
maintain files and observe patient confidentiality. The nature and schedule
of the reports will differ according to the state in which they practice.
These therapists work in outpatient clinics, alternative health-care facilities,
private clinics, hospitals and rehabilitative centers. Many are self-employed.
"My income tripled when I went into private practice," says Benson.
"Many MLD therapists see it as their role to help educate the medical community
and the public. Many people, including physicians, still do not know about
the treatment and how effective it can be."
Robert Harris is the director of the Dr. Vodder School of North America.
(MLD is also known as the Vodder technique, named for the doctor who came
up with it.) He says students who are visually impaired have completed training
"However, the work requires long periods of standing," says Harris. "Therapists
could be required to hold the patient's leg or arm for long periods of time.
It can be quite an active therapy. The therapist must be physically fit. Persons
confined to a wheelchair would have difficulty doing this work."
There is a big need for research, according to Linda O'Donnell. She is
president of the North American Vodder Association of Lymphatic Therapies
(NAVALT). O'Donnell sees the need for more research demonstrating the effectiveness
of the treatment to insurance companies.
"It is hard to be both a good therapist and a good researcher. There are
many avenues for people who enjoy research," she says.