Both are good for your health and can be wonderfully relaxing. But there are plenty of differences between them. When it comes to choosing, your main consideration should be what you want to achieve with treatment. Main areas of difference:
Massage increases blood flow, MLD increases lymph flow. This is over-simplified to illustrate the main difference. You might have heard that massage also increases lymph flow. However, with massage encouraging blood to and from the tissues faster, and the primary role of lymph being to mop up what the blood cannot transport, most of the increased lymph supply will be busy assisting the increased blood supply. In contrast, MLD techniques are designed to focus on speeding up the lymph only.
- Depth of pressure
Massage is generally a muscle technique, while MLD is a skin technique. Muscles are deeper than skin, so massage goes deeper. A considerate massage therapist always remembers to check pressure with the client. A similar check is never required with MLD. ‘Wow, it really is light,’ many clients say after their first MLD session. Many struggle to stay awake during MLD facials!
- Treatment experience
Massage uses a combination of strokes (effleurage, petrissage, etc.) to focus on muscles and connective tissues, as well as massage mediums (oils, creams, waxes) to facilitate the gliding motion and sometimes to bring in the properties of essential oils or other herbs. MLD technique is very different and is applied directly to the skin, no oils etc. With MLD precision is crucial and most treatments will be carried out in a particular sequence, to encourage lymph flow along particular pathways. MLD technique is rhythmic and repetitive, hence has a somewhat ‘hypnotic’ feel to it. MLD treatments generally only cover up to three body parts per session, however it has been shown that even if MLD was only done on the neck area it would still speed up lymph flow in other areas.
For anything that benefits from increased blood flow to the tissues, go for massage. For anything that benefits from increased lymph flow, go for MLD. In general those looking to tackle muscle tension will have massage. MLD sits somewhere in the space between health and beauty (aesthetics) and has specialized applications: decongestion, removal of excess fluid and toxicity, speeding up healing of fractures, surgery scars, bruising, etc. The light touch means that one can have MLD straight after surgery or directly on a bruised area. MLD is also safe in pregnancy and can help reduce ankle swelling.
- Treatment plan
With any treatment, you may be recommended a more intense start, gradually spacing out the sessions. If you suffer from tension-related back pain, you might have weekly massage to start with, then space out to montly maintenance treatment. While a similar approach can be taken with MLD, it depends on the application. MLD is very popular as an intensive course of treatments scheduled around times when the body needs additional support (e.g. a course of treatments for your yearly detox, or to prepare the body for conception, or to support healing after surgery).
Check out other Akana articles about the benefits of massage and MLD and get in touch if you’d like to discuss your options for treatment.