The Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage Massage

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Lymphatic Drainage Massage

Your lymphatic system is an important part of your immune system, designed to rid the body of waste. When functioning properly, it eliminates waste through respiratory movement and natural muscle contractions.

That being said, toxins, cellular waste, and fluid will build up when the lymphatic system and lymph nodes fail to properly drain. A lymphatic drainage massage may be an effective option, especially if you’ve had surgery on your lymph nodes.

Surgery and other damage often lead to a condition called lymphedema.

Lymphatic drainage massage is a safe and gentle technique that targets lymph flow and breaks apart lymph congestion while also stimulating lymph and draining waste and fluid from the body.

In this article, we will detail lymphatic drainage massage benefits. Read on to also learn how a lymph drainage massage is performed and when to avoid a lymphatic drainage massage.

What Are the Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

Lymphatic drainage massage offers many important benefits. For instance, it stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph, and this moves tissue fluid into the lymph vessels from the tissues.

Research shows that lymphatic drainage massage can push up to 78% of stagnant lymph into circulation. One particular study from 2009 showed that lymphatic drainage massage led to significant improvements in pain intensity, pain pressure threshold, and health-related quality of life in women with primary fibromyalgia.

As a result, lymph drainage massage can help remove toxins and wastes from the tissues. Increased lymph flow will also help with immunity, reduce the risk of infection, and speed the healing of inflammation.

The relaxation brought on by lymphatic drainage massage may also help relieve headaches and reduce pain, depression, stress, fatigue, and insomnia. Moreover, deep abdominal drainage massage can decrease abdominal pain and constipation and restore intestinal peristalsis.

The following offers further detail on some of the lymphatic drainage massage benefits.

1. Benefits Edema

Lymphatic drainage massage is effective for edema and lymphedema. Edema is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in various tissues of the body, whereas lymphedema is due to a buildup of fluid and toxins in the lymphatic system.

Although lymph drainage massage can reduce edema, it can also aggravate severe conditions in which edema is a symptom. Some severe causes of edema include cirrhosis, kidney disease, and congestive heart failure.

If you do not know the cause of your chronic edema, consult a doctor before getting lymphatic drainage massage.

2. Before and after Surgery

Lymph drainage massage is also used before and after surgery, especially cosmetic procedures. It is able to increase blood flow, remove stagnant tissue fluid, and reduce stress and anxiety associated with surgery.

After surgery, lymphatic drainage massage will speed healing and reduce scar tissue and inflammation. It should not be performed immediately after surgery, however, due to the risk of blood clots and infection. Wait at least six weeks after surgery, or when a doctor clears you for lymphatic massage.

3. Strengthens Immunity

Since the immune system is directly linked to the lymphatic system, lymphatic drainage massage can stimulate white blood cell circulation, improve immune system function, and increase antibody production. This will fight off infections like colds or flu and reduce inflammation.

People who are prone to getting sick are also encouraged to get lymphatic drainage massage on a regular basis. The general recommendation is a daily massage for one week or one massage weekly for a three-month timeframe.

4. Relieves Tension and Stress

Stress is known to trigger the sympathetic nervous system, and this causes muscles to tense up and increases respiratory and heart rates. However, lymphatic drainage massage will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which is known to relax muscles and slow the heart and respiratory rates.

5. Enhances Skin Health

Lymphatic drainage massage could also improve unhealthy skin due to poor circulation. This massage technique will stimulate blood circulation, bring nutrients to the skin, and remove toxins and wastes from skin cells.

The massage is known to be useful for eczema, rosacea, and acne, although it’s best to avoid this massage during the acute stage of any skin problem. Also avoid lymphatic drainage massage when skin is infected or inflamed, which could include heat, redness, pain, or swelling symptoms. This is because your skin problem may spread to other areas that are not infected.

6. Improves Breastfeeding

Lymphatic drainage massage improves comfort in the legs and feet during pregnancy, and it also enhances breastfeeding after pregnancy.

Some women experience complications while breastfeeding, often due to the baby improperly latching onto the breast. As a result, breasts and nipples become sore and painful, and the ducts blocked.

However, lymphatic drainage massage will help reduce swelling, improve blocked ducts, and decrease soreness in the nipples and breasts. This then leads to better breastfeeding.

How Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage Done?

How does lymphatic drainage massage work? There are two stages of lymphatic drainage massage—clearing and reabsorption. The idea here is to create a vacuum with gentle pressure so the area is prepared to flush out fluid.

This section will briefly explain how the clearing and reabsorption processes work.

Clearing Process

In this process, there are three stages:

First, you will clear the supraclavicular area, which is located under the collarbone. You will lie on a comfortable, flat surface with arms crossed and your hands resting below the collarbone. Then you will lift your elbows slowly. This muscle action is the pressure required to prepare the area for flushing lymphatic fluid.

Next, you will clear the axillary area, which is found under the arms. For this, you will rest one hand above your head while using the other hand to gently scoop the underarm area from top to bottom. A gentle pressure will then move the surface of the skin.

Finally, you will clear the inside of the elbows. In this stage, you will rest your arm straight at your side and use the fingers of the opposite hand to gently pull an inch at a time of the skin inside the elbow.

You will only apply gentle pressure, and these clearing motions can be repeated as many as 10 times daily. It is also best to massage each side of the body, and not just the side with lymphedema.

It is recommended to set aside a minimum of 20 minutes daily for lymphatic drainage massage. However, if you have only a small amount of time available, it is best to focus on the clearing stage.

Reabsorption Process

In the reabsorption stage of lymphatic drainage massage, you will begin at the affected part of the body farthest from the body’s core.

For instance, if you have lymphedema in your arm or hand, begin at the tips of the fingers. You will then use a gentle, sweeping motion to shift the skin’s surface. Massage from fingertip to hand, hand to elbow, and then elbow to shoulder.

When beginning reabsorption on the legs, you will use a pumping motion behind the knee. You will place both hands behind your knees, and pump the back of the knee with a rolling, upward motion 10 to 15 times. The knee is now ready to take in fluid from the lower leg, and you can then begin the massage.

For this, put one hand on top of the skin and the other hand behind the leg. You will then stretch the skin in an upward motion, and release it. Continue toward the ankle area, and repeat down through the ankle and foot. Always make sure you stroke upward.

The massage ends by gently pushing fluid from the toes upward with the fingers.

When Should You Avoid Lymphatic Massages?

There are circumstances in which you should avoid lymphatic drainage massage. For example, avoid lymph drainage massage if you develop lymphedema after surgery since swelling can occur.

Patients with the infection lymphangitis should stop massage treatment until the infection has completely cleared.

People at risk of blood clotting should also rule out deep venous thrombosis before being treated with lymphatic drainage massage. Congestive heart failure patients should be monitored before lymph drainage massage as well, so that too much fluid doesn’t move too quickly and put a strain on the heart.

You should also avoid this massage until an underlying cause of pain has been determined, and it has gone away.

Furthermore, if you have kidney problems, bronchial asthma, acute thrombosis, thyroid problems, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, hypotension, malignant tumors, or are being treated with chemotherapy or any medication, consult your doctor before using lymphatic drainage massage.

Final Thoughts on Lymphatic Drainage Massage

The lymphatic system is designed to eliminate waste from the body. However, lymphedema will occur when fluid, cellular wastes, and toxins build up in the lymphatic system, often due to surgery or other damage.

Lymphatic drainage massage will help stimulate lymph and drain these wastes and toxins from the body. Lymphatic drainage massage benefits include enhancing skin health, relieving stress and tension, strengthening the immune system, improving breastfeeding, and benefiting those with edema.

It is a good idea to practice lymphatic drainage massage under the guidance of someone with the right training, such as a massage therapist, nurse, doctor, or physical or occupational therapist. Training for lymphatic drainage massage has been established by the Lymphology Association of North America.

Remember to consult a doctor before using lymph drainage massage because it can affect the flow of fluid and lymph when you have certain health problems or are taking particular medications.

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Article Sources (+)

Ekici, G., et al., “Comparison of manual lymph drainage therapy and connective tissue massage in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial,” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Feb. 2009; 32(2): 127-133, doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2008.12.001.
French, R., The Complete Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage, Nelson Education, Oct. 14, 2011;, last accessed July 3, 2018.