Anne Bramham: Dr. Vodder’s Manual Lymph Drainage

First introduced in the United States in the late 1970’s, Manual Lymph Drainage is recognized as an effective therapy for the treatment of Edema. Over the past twenty-five years, the Dr.Vodder School of North America has certified hundreds of manual lymphatic drainage therapists. The certification program is a 160-hour post-graduate course. Divided into four one-week sessions, certification is obtained through successful written and practical examination. The program is demanding, requiring a firm commitment, and not everyone is successful. The Vodder method is recognized as a disciplined and organized modality. It is generally well regarded by the medical hierarchy, and with the ever increasing incidence of cancer, a growing demand for qualified MLD therapists is assured. Interesting, however, is Medicare’s recent decision to require MLD to be performed only by physical therapists in order to qualify for reimbursement. The ruling, I trust, will be short lived, and while it may temporarily discourage some massage therapists from pursuing MLD training, it will, correspondingly, provide an opportunity for the motivated therapist to discover the many uses of this powerful, healing modality.

When I began my MLD training in 1990, I wasn’t considering a career in the treatment of lymphedema. Instead, I was interested in discovering the value this subtle therapy would offer my clients. MLD intrigued me for a number of reasons: the lymphatic system’s relationship with the immune system, the removal of metabolic wastes, the improved circulation, and, of course, the deep, healing relaxation it offered. It also provided a professional challenge. My clients were familiar with deep tissue work. In bringing lymph drainage to the table, I was asking them to trust the radical change in my approach to treating them. MLD is an extremely light and rhythmic technique which works on the skin and subcutaneous tissue. Based on the theory that, by removing substances that cause congestion in the tissue, the body will restore itself to homeostasis, I thought MLD could be successful where conventional therapies had failed. Many of my clients suffered with chronic conditions, and my hope was MLD would succeed in addressing their persistent ailments. The results, I’m happy to report, were better than I could have ever imagined. Let me take this opportunity to share a few of the stories with you.

Case Number 1
Norman, a successful businessman in his early sixties, suffered lower back pain. He had recently undergone back surgery and was upset that he was once again confined to bed with debilitating pain. Initially I treated him with a combination of trigger point and myofascial work. The work provided little relief. We then embarked on a daily program of MLD. After three treatments my client reported improved rest, due to less pain. After his fifth treatment he was standing and moving tentatively. We continued with five more treatments, and at the end of the ten-day session my client, an avid tennis player, was back on the court and free of pain. There were other positive physiological effects. His breathing was fuller and deeper. He had suffered with acid reflux for years, and his digestion normalized. His sleep improved. His high blood pressure normalized. A dozen years later my client continues to receive regular MLD treatments. His blood pressure is normal, acid reflux is a memory, and his tennis game is as good as ever.

Case Number 2
Linda, a married woman in her mid fifties, was one of the persons most responsible for my pursuing MLD training. I needed to find ways to help her. She suffered from severe asthma and had been on cortisone medication. Cortisone use had resulted in a number of side effects which included excessive weight gain and abdominal distension. Manual lymph drainage became an effective tool with which I was able to restore her tissue to a fairly normal elastic state. When I first worked on her abdomen, it felt solid, with relatively little tissue movement. After ten sessions the improvement was significant, and for years we maintained a status quo. Her health did not deteriorate, and with frequent MLD sessions her body looked no older than when we started the treatments twelve years before. This past year my travel schedule and her family circumstances interfered with our regular treatment schedule. My client became ill. When I returned home we committed to 18 consecutive days of treatment. This is no small undertaking. It takes two hours to treat the whole body and the client is generally exhausted after treatment. The 18-day program restored her health, and in the process she lost a significant amount of weight, her arthiritic pain diminished, joint mobility improved, and her breathing capability increased by several points, an improvement that amazed her physician. There was also an emotional component worth mentioning. My client grew considerably calmer. Events that would normally overwhelm her were now taken in stride. The 18-day program was such a success I persuaded my husband to commit to a three-week vacation during which we treat one another daily with MLD.

Case Number 3
Early in my MLD career my husband became interested in my daily stories and decided to take it upon himself to recruit what seemed to be difficult cases. This was pro bono work, and I considered it a great part of my learning, for which I remain grateful. One day my husband arrived at my clinic with a young man of about 35 who was suffering from chemical poisoning. The man looked gray and ashen and appeared much older than his years. The medical system had been unable to help him. Expensive medication and office visits had exhausted his bank account. A furniture refinisher by profession, he had been exposed to harmful chemicals for years and was now suffering from extreme weight loss, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and panic attacks. We set a daily treatment plan of MLD. After five treatments his color began to improve. After ten treatments he reported improved breathing and an improved ability to rest. At the end of fifteen treatments his blood pressure had normalized and the heart palpitations had decreased. He began to regain the lost weight. At the conclusion of the program, we trained his wife to continue the therapy at home. He made a complete recovery and although he remains sensitive to some foods and some smells, the rest of his life has normalized.

I could go on with stories, but in conclusion I want to tell you that perhaps the most wonderful part of being an MLD practitioner is how it has affected my family. My 28-year-old son, accident prone by nature, has been the beneficiary of countless MLD sessions. Injuries have healed faster, cuts have healed quickly, and muscle aches have been soothed. The sessions have brought us closer. Toward the end of her life, my mother’s diabetes was, in part, kept in check by regular MLD. And now, my six-year-old granddaughter, the first of the new generation, asks for MLD whenever she doesn’t feel well. We have become the best of buddies.


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