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Not all “lymphatic massage” is equal.

“Lymphatic massage” has become quite the buzz phrase and a sought-after therapy for everything from general wellness to swollen feet, from migraines to post-operative tummy tucks. What is a lymphatic massage? Where can I get one? There is a lot of misinformation out there, so I want to share a few questions I get asked often.


First, we have to clear up some terminology. The phrase “lymphatic massage” doesn’t really mean much. It can be anything and any massage therapist can claim to provide lymphatic massage without certification. On the other hand, “manual lymph drainage” (MLD) is the proper term for techniques designed to stimulate the lymphatic system and physically influence the movement of lymph fluid in the body along specific pathways. I realize that lymphatic massage is a more palatable term than drainage, but if you are looking for lymphatic massage, you are really in search of a therapist certified in MLD.


1. How do I know if my massage therapist is qualified to perform MLD?


MLD requires extensive training by a massage therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nurse, followed by examination before certification. There are two certifications for manual lymph drainage. Certified Manual Lymph Drainage Therapists (CMLDT) complete at least 40 hours, whereas Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLT) have a minimum of 135 hours to certification. A CLT has the same MLD training as a CMLDT, but also provides the other components of complete decongestive therapy (CDT) for lymphedema including bandaging, compression garments, exercise, skin care and self- care instruction. I know it’s a lot! But you are looking for a CMLDT or a CLT. These two certifications are held to high standards that a few hours in massage school or a weekend course cannot address. For example, a quick Google search shows Lymphatic Drainage Massage Therapy Certificate Course: a 4.5-hour recorded video that will teach me to “treat massage clients who are healthy and with lymphedema”. Would you trust that therapist with your body now that you know the minimal training required above? There are about 10 schools in the United States that offer certification in manual lymph drainage and lymphedema therapy, and they are listed with Lymphology Association of North America (LANA) at https://www.clt-lana.org/training-programs. LANA holds certified therapists to the highest national standards and helps promote the science and awareness of lymphedema and related disorders.


2. Would MLD be beneficial for me?


The obvious use for manual lymph drainage is managing lymphedema. If you think you have or could get lymphedema, you need a CLT to help you navigate that path. Also, if you have a compromised lymphatic system (i.e. lymph node removed, scar tissue from surgery, swelling), visit a certified therapist. If you have or have had cancer or its treatments including surgery, lymph node removal, radiation, or chemotherapy, you may be a candidate for MLD. If you are looking for a qualified oncology massage therapist (yes, that’s a thing!), visit Society for Oncology Massage (https://www.s4om.org/). This not-for-profit sets high standards for the profession and has resources for you including a Preferred Practitioner Directory. Current research shows benefits of MLD for a myriad of other conditions, including fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, sprains and post-surgical edema. Like most treatments, there are situations where MLD is not advisable. There are a few contraindications, so be sure to share your complete medical history with your therapist.


3. How do I find a certified therapist: CMLDT or CLT?


Go to the LANA website above to search your area for LANA Certified Specialists. Visit the training programs, as many of them have therapist directories to help you find a graduate. Also visit https://lymphaticnetwork.org/living-with-lymphedema/find-a-lymphedema-therapist/ for therapist locators and more great information.


When you find your CMLDT or CLT, ask them about their experience. How many hours of MLD training have you had, and where did you receive your training? How much of your practice is MLD? Have you had positive results for others with my specific needs?

Let the lymph flow.


Your health is worth it!



Chelsea French LMT, CLT is a licensed massage therapist and certified lymphedema therapist, specializing in oncology rehabilitation and lymphedema management. FL Lic#MA93440 Contact her at ChelseaAnaFrench@gmail.com




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