This is the sixth installment in our "Myth"conceptions About Lymph Massage series (full list here). Today we're going to take a look at the myth that you need to see a certified MLD or CDT Therapist for Lymph Massage ... and of course the counter-myth that you don't need to. As always, there is some truth on both sides and your answer is somewhere in the middle.
Let's get to it!
CDT is for Complete Decongestive Therapy
CDT is the gold-standard treatment protocol for managing Lymphedema and Lipoedema. It involves manual therapy (like MLD), exercise, diet, and specialized compression bandaging. At home exercises and self-treatment are sometimes taught as part of the protocols. Sometimes called Complex Decongestive Therapy.
MLD is for Manual Lymph Drainage
MLD is the manual therapy component of CDT. Like CDT, self-care is also sometimes a part of the treatment protocol.
There are other terms you may hear regarding certified Lymph Drainage therapies - the Chikly method and the Vodder method for example.
Any practitioner of these methods is certified and qualified for all lymphatic problems - both for a dysfunctional lymph system and and overwhelmed one.
Well if you want to be sure that they know lymphatic work, you will know that, yes, they know what they’re doing.
On the other hand, it doesn’t take 100-200 hours of training and thousands of $$ to know how to do Lymphatic Facilitation (I can teach it to you in a few hours for just a couple hundred bucks in my course).
And you can learn about 1/3 of what’s in my course from free videos online (probably more than a few hours of finding them scattered all over the place and a lot of duplicate information – you can save a little time with my upcoming list of freebies).
Not all lymphatic problems are the same. There are some conditions that should absolutely be addressed by a qualified, certified pro. There are others (or degrees of a problem) that should be evaluated by a qualified pro and then once they've determined there isn't significant risk that requires advanced knowledge you can do it on your own.
In fact part of MLD/CDT is often teaching the patient self-care - so obviously you can do it at home.
With conditions like lymphedema and lipoedema, only a qualified practitioner can determine if self-care is sufficient, safe, and a good option for you.
So what do you need to know about selecting a lymphatic therapist?
By the way, if you are paying someone to do lymphatic treatment on you they will likely need to be a licensed professional – a massage therapist – LMT, CMT, RMT – or PT, ATC, MD, DC, RN, PTA, or somebody with some genuine credentials after their name. Yup, letters after a name indicate credentials, but not all of those letters mean anything at all.
It will depend on your locality (or usually state) if people can do manual (hands on) therapy for money. But safe guess is that it’s regulated.
Just be aware that a credential is only as worthwhile as the program that conferred it.
I can teach you how to do Lymphatic Facilitation (LF) and educate you about it, but if you were to want to pay me to do it I could only do it in Colorado or California where I maintain licensure. If you do reside in a place where a license is required, don’t pay money to someone who isn’t legit enough to maintain license, insurance, and all that jazz.
You also can’t charge money to others for you to do it if you don’t have a license either.
However… there is a crap ton of bad information out there (oh, the toxins!) for both you as a consumer and yes, even the massage professionals that you would assume know better. If they are billing themselves as an LF specialist, hopefully they know their stuff. An MLD or CDT certification says that for sure. But they do need more than a general massage education – at least extensive practice in the technique.
The program I directed included a unit on LF massage in the sports curriculum and I learned it in a train-the-trainer program where I both taught teachers how to teach it and therapists how to do it. It wasn’t at the level of MLD or CDT, but it was legit. But how are you supposed to know as a consumer about your therapist?
What is LF? Lymphatic Facilitation is an off-shoot from MLD techniques adapted for traumatic edema - an overwhelmed, but otherwise healthy lymphatic system. It can be used for the self-care portion for lymphedema or lipoedema only if directed to by a qualified practitioner.
At the very least, ask the therapist how many clients they’ve worked with that have had conditions similar to yours. Don’t spend a bunch of money on being a guinea pig.
So let's get to it.
Do you need to see a certified practitioner for your Lymph Massage?
When you need to see a certified MLD or CDT Therapist:
- If you have a complex condition like lymphedema or lipoedema (especially stage 2+ and acute), you'll need to see a certified practitioner to evaluate your condition and determine what is appropriate for you. That may or may not include you being able to safely and effectively self-treat.
When you need to see a certified MLD or CDT Therapist before you get Lymph Massage:
- If you have health conditions that require caution (circulatory problems, kidney issues...) then you'll want to talk with your doctor about Lymph Massage before you do it. But if your doctor says your system can handle it, you're good to go with self-treatment or non-professional treatment with adequate training (like the DIY Lymph Massage course)
When you don't need to see a certified MLD or CDT Therapist:
If you have a diagnosis with no complicated conditions, you can use self-Lymphatic Massage to address traumatic edema or idiopathid edema without any problem.
Part of the "Do You Need Lymph Massage?" Quiz helps to assess your situation and if you should see a pro or not.