Lymphatic Drainage Massage: What Is It and How to Do It – Greatist

Lymphatic Drainage Massage: What Is It and How to Do It – Greatist

If you have a lymphatic system that’s under attack or damaged, fluid buildup in your lymph nodes can make things pretty uncomfy and swollen. But can something as simple as touch via a lymphatic drainage massage help you out?

Since your lymphatic system helps waste and toxins exit your body, a lymphatic massage may help move the process along if things get backed up. Here’s how it works.

Lymphatic drainage massage involves applying light pressure to the skin in a slow, stroking motion. By massaging the skin, you can help stimulate lymph vessels to contract and move fluid from swollen areas to other parts of the body.

For most of us, regular movement is enough to stimulate the lymph system so fluid flows freely throughout the body. But folks with damaged lymph nodes or certain illnesses develop swelling when lymph builds up (aka lymphedema). This swelling often shows up in the arms and legs.

Lymphatic drainage massage is typically part of complete decongestive therapy (CDT) — a multifaceted approach to reducing swelling due to problems in the lymphatic system. CDT includes four parts:

  1. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD): a massage technique for increasing lymph flow
  2. Compression: wearing clothes or bandages that put pressure on the body part
  3. Exercises: movements that help stimulate drainage
  4. Skin care: treating skin conditions that result from swelling

Doctors often suggest professional lymphatic drainage massage after lymph node surgery to help reduce lymphedema symptoms. This is common in folks treated for breast cancer, since more than 20 percent will experience lymphedema.

But we’ll be honest, research on the effectiveness of lymphatic drainage massage for treating lymphedema is mixed.

  • In a 2015 research review of breast cancer-related lymphedema, researchers found that using manual lymphatic drainage massage with compression bandages was more effective than bandages alone.
  • But in a small research review of 12 studies, researchers found that compared to controls, lymphatic massage didn’t significantly reduce or prevent lymphedema in folks who had breast cancer surgery.
  • Other research showed CDT — again the combo of manual lymphatic drainage, compression therapy, skin care, and exercises — helps reduce limb swelling.
  • Another small research review showed that evidence for using manual lymphatic drainage massage is unclear, based on 8 studies of chronic lymphedema.

So for now, research is unclear on just how effective lymphatic massage is when people seem to experience improvement with or without it. At the very least, it is typically a safe treatment that may be worth trying.

Lymphatic drainage massage has also been used to help conditions besides lymphedema. While not completely proven, the technique may also be used to help folks with:

So, what does the research say about using lymphatic massage beyond lymphedema treatment? Again, the research is limited and iffy. Here’s what we know:

While lymphatic massage is generally considered safe for most people, it can be dangerous for folks with certain conditions.

Avoid lymphatic drainage if you: