How to Perform Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage

Discover key MLD massage techniques

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a type of massage that is used to help drain excess fluid from body tissues where this has accumulated and caused swelling.

MLD uses very precise and light movements to move lymph through the lymph vessels to drain waste. No oil is used and the idea is that just the skin, not the muscle, is moved. The techniques shown below are basic treatments for common complaints such as headaches and fluid retention.

Learn how to perform MLD massage using the techniques from Neal’s Yard Remedies Complete Massage below. 

How to Perform Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage


Thumb circles

Small, light rotations using each thumb in turn work at skin level only. The focus is on one spot rather than sliding over skin.

Light thumb circles are used on small areas such as the wrist, feet, ankles, and hands. The subtle stretching and releasing action, repeated in a line over a hand or foot, is the start of a process to move lymph up to the auxiliary lymph nodes.



The thumb rests on the forearm as the hand works under the arm. The practitioner support the wrist as the other hand works, then swaps hands.

A scoop action on the lower limbs follows the circling action, continuing to stimulate lymph up to the lymph nodes. The hands alternate in a light stretching (not sliding), pushing, and release action, moving up the arm to finish at the elbow.



The practitioner holds their hands in a “V” shape over the thigh. Keeping the fingers together provides a good stretch and more even pressure.

This stretch and release action is suitable on the upper limbs, in particular the thigh, where there is a larger surface area. As with the scoop, the aim is to stretch the skin only, then release, repeating this action as you work up the limb to encourage excess fluid into the lymph nodes.


Pump scoop

The practitioner rests the “pump” hand lightly on top of the leg. Bending the leg gives access to the calf for the scoop action.

This action, done on the calf, combines the techniques of the pump and scoop to maximize lymph drainage. The pump and release action is done with the top hand, followed by the scoop and release action with the bottom hand, working up the limb to finish before the knee.

For more massage techniques, and to understand key disciplines – including reflexology, Swedish massage, Shiatsu massage and Thai massage – discover Neal's Yard Remedies Complete Massage.