Manual Lymph Drainage Therapist  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotManual 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.

dotTherapists 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).

dotManual 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.

dotThese 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."

dotRobert 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 successfully.

"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."

dotThere 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.

At a Glance

Help people with lymphatic problems

  • Fewer than 500 therapists in the U.S. are trained as manual lymph drainage therapists
  • You could work in outpatient clinics, alternative health-care facilities, private clinics, hospitals and rehabilitative centers
  • Start with a health-care background