What is a Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

Published April 11th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera

Lymphatic drainage massage is a type of massage that is said to be beneficial for the lymphatic system and is responsible for removing toxins from the body.

It is said to help improve the flow of lymphatic fluid and reduce any swelling in your lymph nodes.

There are a few different types of lymphatic drainage massages, and the preparation and massage for each will vary depending on which part of your body needs the massage.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of lymphatic drainage massage and how to judge its effectiveness.

What is lymphatic drainage massage?

Lymphatic drainage massage, also called manual lymphatic drainage, is a form of massage that helps to encourage the natural drainage of the lymph, which is a clear fluid that helps to remove waste and toxins from the body.

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and nodes that runs throughout the body and drains into your bloodstream.

It removes toxins by filtering lymph fluid through your lymph nodes which use white blood cells to remove them.

Various health conditions can cause the lymph to build up in your lymphatic system while a lymphatic drainage massage can help to improve the function of the lymphatic system and reduce swelling.

Lymphatic massages are given by licensed therapists; however, you can learn how to perform them at home too.

Who needs a lymphatic drainage massage?

There are a few common medical conditions that can be helped by lymphatic drainage massage. These conditions include:

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition that causes swelling in your arms or legs due to a build-up of lymph fluid from a surgery of the removal of lymph nodes.

The most common types of surgery include cancer surgery ( most often breast cancer), vascular surgery, lipectomy (surgery to remove fat), and removal of burn scars.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain and tenderness in your muscles, joints, and tendons all over the body.

It can also lead to insomnia, depression, fatigue, and cramps among other symptoms.

Filariasis

Filariasis is a parasitic infection that is spread by mosquitoes. The parasites live in your lymphatic system and can cause extreme swelling in your legs and arms, as well as fever, headache, and skin rashes.

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in your veins, usually in your legs.

DVT can cause pain and swelling in the affected limb and can be dangerous if the clot breaks loose and travels to your lungs where it can block an artery, which is called a pulmonary embolism.

lymphatic drainage massage

Lack of blood flow to your extremities

A lack of blood flow to your extremities can be caused by a number of medical conditions, including diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and Raynaud's disease.

These conditions can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the affected limb.

Infection

An infection can cause your lymph nodes to swell and can also lead to fever, chills, and body aches.

Trauma

Trauma, such as a car accident or a fall, can cause your lymph nodes to swell too.

What are the benefits of lymphatic drainage massage?

If you need a lymphatic drainage massage you are suffering from lymphedema due to a lymphatic fluid build-up and need decongestive lymphatic therapy.

Together with other decongestive lymphatic therapies, lymphatic drainage massage benefits include:

  • Reducing swelling in your limbs
  • Reducing swelling in your chest, groin, face, and shoulder
  • Reducing pain

Other forms of decongestive lymphatic therapies include:

  • Tight-fitting compression garment to improve circulation and swelling
  • Exercise
  • Skin care

What are the different stages of lymphatic massage?

There are two stages to a lymphatic massage and we will detail both below.

Clearing

The first stage is all about clearing lymph nodes. In order to do this, you or your therapist will need to perform several easy stretches while lying down and a gentle massage of areas that affect the lymphatic system.

These gentle massages and stretching flush the lymphatic system by releasing excess fluid in your tissues.

Reabsorption

Reabsorption involves the gentle massaging of the area affected by lymphedema.

The goal of the reabsorption phase is to move the lymphatic fluid to your tissues.

How do I prepare for a lymphatic massage?

There are several things you can do to prepare for a lymphatic massage. The preparation involves massage techniques with light pressure that can only be felt on the skin and not the muscles underneath.

To prepare you can perform the following:

Neck

Place your index fingers and middle fingers of each hand on opposite sides of the front of your neck and slowly pull them down towards your collarbone with gentle pressure.

Repeat 5 times and then do the same on the sides of your neck and back of your neck.

Arms

Lie on your back on a flat surface and cross your arms on your chest. Gently raise and lower your elbows 5 to 10 times.

Next, put one arm above your head and use the other hand to cup your armpit and make a scooping motion up and down. Repeat this on the other armpit.

Elbows

While still lying on a flat surface, place one arm straight at your side and gently pull the skin on the inside of your elbow an inch at a time. Repeat on the other elbow.

Knees

Continuing the exercises on your back, put both hands on the backs of your knee with your fingers pointing to one another.

Slowly roll your hands in an upward motion and repeat on the other knee.

How do I perform a lymphatic massage on my upper body?

Now that you have cleared your lymphatic system it is time for reabsorption. Depending on where you suffer lymphedema, you will have to perform separate exercises for your arms and legs.

To perform each stage of the lymphatic massage, you must perform the following:

Arms

Whichever arm is suffering from lymphedema, you will start at the fingers. Place your other hand, either palms or fingers, at the tips of your fingers on the hand you are massaging.

Gently sweep them towards your palm. Using your palm do the same motion on your palm you are massaging and then repeat on your forearm and upper arm.

Always be cognizant to be sweeping upward strokes towards your body.

Repeat 10 times on each section and then perform the same massage on the other arm if necessary.

Shoulder

While resting your arm at your side lying down or on an armrest, use the palm of your other hand to perform gentle sweeping motions from the lower part of your shoulder on your back up towards your neck and repeat 10 times.

Perform the same massage on the other shoulder if necessary.

Chest

Place your palm on your chest above your nipple and use a sweeping motion to run your hand over your collarbone and towards your neck.

Repeat 10 times and on the other side if necessary.

Legs

One hand will be on your shin below your knee while the other hand will be placed on your calf at the same position as your hand on the front.

Slowly move your hands upwards and stretch the skin until you get to your knee. Continue doing this down you leg and on your feet while always pulling your skin upwards towards your body.

Please be aware to perform these massages where there are no stitches and not near an unhealed incision wound from surgery.

How do I know if the lymphatic massage worked?

The lymphatic massage is a slow and gentle process that can take some time to show results, if at all.

Your symptoms may improve, but to guarantee it is working your symptoms will not become worse.

You may see an improvement within the first few sessions but some may not see any changes until after a few weeks of treatment if you have any.

The most important thing to remember is to be consistent with your treatments and perform them regularly.

Summary

Lymphatic drainage massage is an effective treatment and type of massage that helps to clear the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and nodes that help to remove waste and toxins from the body.

The benefits of lymphatic drainage include improved lymphatic flow within the lymphatic system, reduced swelling, and improved immune function.

If you need lymphatic drainage then you typically have lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in the lymph vessels and lymph nodes. Manual lymphatic drainage can be performed by a qualified therapist or at home. To perform a lymphatic massage, you first prepare your body by doing some gentle exercises to loosen up the lymphatic fluid buildup.

Next, you will need to massage the lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels in your body using gentle, sweeping motions which cause the flow of lymph to be reabsorbed back into your lymphatic system.

You can see an improvement in your symptoms after a few sessions of lymphatic drainage, or at the very least your symptoms will not become worse.

If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor, licensed massage therapist, or health care provider for more information and to find right treatment plan for you.

References and Sources:

https://ahc.aurorahealthcare.org/fywb/x21458.pdf

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/physically/lymphoedema-and-cancer/treating/massage-manual-lymphatic-drainage/about

https://www.fredhutch.org/en/research/patient-treatment-support/survivorship-program.html

https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/impacts-of-cancer/lymphoedema/lymphatic-drainage-for-lymphoedema

Put drug prices & coupons in your pocket!

We'll text you a link to download our free Android or iPhone app