Self-Manual Lymphatic Drainage – Head and Neck


This video is intended to show you how to perform self-manual lymphatic drainage (or “self-MLD”) for an upper extremity. If you have swelling in your arm, hand, or upper trunk, these strokes, performed in this demonstrated sequence, can work to help reduce some of that edema.

While self-MLD should not be a replacement for the work that you are doing with your lymphedema therapist or MLD practitioner, it is a great complement to your decongestive or edema management program, and it gives you a way to care for yourself at home at your convenience.

A few notes on when NOT to perform self-MLD:

  • if you have any painful or enlarged lymph nodes
  • if you are experiencing any unusual redness or warmth of the skin
  • if you’re not feeling well overall

**If you are experiencing enlarged, painful lymph nodes or unusual skin redness/warmth, please contact your doctor without delay, as these could be signs of infection.

A few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Your goal is to have your hands stick to the skin so you can stretch it, so do not use any lotion to perform this work, and working on bare skin is ideal.
  • These strokes should be performed about every 2-3 seconds, aiming for 5-7 strokes in each position. If you have a higher concentration of swelling in a certain place, you can certainly give more focus and time to those areas.
  • The pressure is meant to be light, only about the weight of your hand in most areas. This work should not cause any pain or any reddening of the skin.
  • If you have areas of significant scarring or fibrosis, do not direct fluid toward these areas. Work with a lymphedema therapist to devise workaround pathways.

If you have questions or comments about these self-MLD tutorials, please contact me.  I am also available as a virtual self-MLD coach via Zoom if you would like customized instruction, since everyone’s bodies, everyone’s swelling can be different, and modifications can be made to this sequence to accommodate your individual needs.