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Lymphatic Massage: What Is It and Who Should Get One?

What is Lymphatic Massage?

Manual lymphatic drainage massage, also commonly referred to as MLD massage, is a gentle massage modality that encourages the movement of lymph fluid through the body. The body’s lymphatic system naturally removes waste from tissue, with the lymph nodes helping to destroy bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms as lymph fluid passes through. When lymph fluid builds up in the body, it can lead to general discomfort, swelling, and even certain health conditions. A lymphatic drainage massage can assist in detoxifying the body by stimulating the tissue to remove lymph fluid buildup without compressing the vessels.

During a Swedish massage or deep tissue massage, the therapist focuses on applying pressure to the muscles to create an overall sense of relaxation. When performing a lymphatic drainage massage, the certified therapist will instead use a sequence of rhythmic gliding, compressing, stretching, and cupping motions to help move lymph fluid through the tissues and lymph nodes. Many techniques of lymphatic drainage therapy are easy to do at home, too. 

The Benefits of Lymphatic Massage

While MLD was originally developed in the 1930s to relieve the symptoms of lymphedema, a common side effect from chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, it has grown in popularity over the years. Lymphatic drainage and massage techniques are still used in the medical community for treating conditions like fibromyalgia, but MLD is now also highly sought after among the general public for its many wellness benefits. Some of the benefits from regular lymphatic massage include: 

  • Relief from pain and soreness
  • Reducing digestive problems and discomfort
  • Balancing hormone levels
  • Treating skin conditions such as acne and rosacea
  • Reducing cellulite
  • Relieving seasonal allergies and headaches
  • Reducing the effects of jet lag
  • General detoxification and stress relief

While this type of massage can help relieve symptoms, MLD can also exacerbate certain conditions. People who suffer from congestive heart failure, blood clots, kidney problems, circulation issues, or certain other conditions should ask their doctor before receiving an MLD massage treatment.

Many beauty and skincare routines use elements of lymphatic massage, utilizing jade rollers and gua sha tools to help stimulate and move fluid through the face. Lymphatic drainage techniques on the face can help relieve puffiness and give you a more youthful appearance.

What to Expect During Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic drainage massages can be performed by a certified massage therapist. During the session, your therapist will use very light pressure and long strokes that encourage the lymph fluid to move. The treatment will likely focus on the key areas of your lymphatic system, such as the neck, armpits, abdomen, and hips. Your therapist may also address organs such as the liver, kidneys, lungs and digestive tract which can benefit from MLD massage. 

Lymphatic massage is often paired with other gentle massage modalities to enhance the treatment, such as reiki energy healing, myofascial release, and acupressure massage.

You may feel fatigued or tired after an MLD treatment, so it’s best to schedule extra time for rest following your session. Wear loose-fitting clothing for the remainder of the day, and make sure you drink plenty of water before and after your appointment to keep the lymph fluid from stagnating.