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The Ultimate Guide to Lymphatic Drainage Massage

Updated: Jun 4

By now you’ve probably heard something about lymphatic drainage massage, or the other various names it goes by: lymph drainage or manual lymph drainage. After all, it’s the latest buzz in health and self-care techniques these days, but what is it and what's it used for? Lymphatic drainage massage is an extremely relaxing, hands-on technique that uses gentle, rhythmic strokes to affect the fluid system of the body and help maintain optimal performance of the lymphatic system. Vital to good health, the lymphatic system is responsible for cleaning and detoxifying our tissues of cellular waste and toxins. When the system is congested or sluggish, health issues can arise. Getting sick often, fatigue, bloating and brain fog are just a few of the symptoms that can indicate the lymphatic system is not functioning optimally.

lymphatic drainage massage

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and is made up of a network of organs and tissues that help filter waste, toxins and pathogens from the body. Although it varies from person to person, it’s estimated we have around 600 lymph nodes throughout the entire body. Lymph nodes are tiny, pea sized filters that destroy foreign substances and help the immune system detect infections. Lymph nodes are fed by lymph vessels carrying toxin laden fluid away from tissue (think muscles, organs and joints) to the lymph nodes where it is filtered and broken down by white blood cells. Eventually, the cleaned fluid is returned to the circulatory system while waste products are excreted through the liver and kidneys.

How Does Lymphatic Drainage Massage Work?

Lymphatic fluid stagnation in the body is quite prevalent and often overlooked as a source of common maladies such as fatigue, muscular tension, decreased range of motion in joints, swelling, puffiness, bloating and brain fog. Stagnation can be due to various reasons including: toxins in the environment, diet, medications, inactivity, stress, tight musculature, acute and chronic injury, autoimmune disease and age. Lymphatic drainage massage essentially stimulates the decongestion of these stagnant fluids. By using light and rhythmic hand movements to stimulate microscopic valves near the skin’s surface to uptake fluid faster, the system is stimulated to process waste products more rapidly. It is the acceleration of this waste material that makes lymphatic drainage a detoxifying treatment.

What Are The Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

Benefits of lymphatic drainage include:

  • Reduces swelling and bloating

  • Alleviates inflammation, pain and spasm

  • acute and chronic injury

  • Relieves chronic inflammatory conditions with sinuses, acne and allergies

  • Helps reduce post-surgical pain, bruising and swelling

  • Improves scar tissue and fibrosis

  • Improves immune system function

  • Deeply relaxing and aids insomnia, depression and stress

  • Improves symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, autoimmune disease

  • Improves the appearance of cellulite and adipose tissue

  • Calms the sympathetic nervous system

  • Stimulates immune system function

  • Detoxification of the body

How to Prepare for Your Session

If eating close to your lymphatic drainage massage, keep it light and get hydrated. This doesn’t mean chug a gallon of water right before your appointment! Ideally, you’ll want to increase your water intake by a few glasses the day before, especially if you‘re not good about staying hydrated. Once the lymph drainage takes effect, your body will begin to flush waste via the kidneys and you will have to use the restroom, so plan ahead and go before you get on the massage table. Although lymphatic drainage massage is generally safe, there are some health conditions that can be adversely affected so always do a thorough intake with your therapist and let them know if you have any health conditions.

What to Expect During Your Session

Lymphatic drainage massage can be utilized for a general, full body treatment or applied to a particular area of the body when treating a specific issue. This style of bodywork utilizes slow, gentle and rhythmic strokes to stimulate the principal lymph nodes that reside in the neck, armpits, groin and abdomen. Additional parts of the body to receive massage will be determined depending on your session goals. Because lymphatic drainage massage calms the sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the fight or flight system, you can expect to fall into a very deep state of relaxation. Most people feel energized once they are off the massage table and back into the light of day! However, depending on how much you are detoxing, you may want to nap or go to bed early. Very rarely people may get a headache, which is an indicator they are dehydrated. Make sure to drink water after your session and as much as possible respect what your body is telling you and act accordingly, i.e. if you're tired, go to bed early.

When is Lymphatic Drainage Massage Contraindicated?

As with any type of bodywork, Lymphatic drainage massage should not be used as a substitute for medical care. If you have any health issues it is never a bad idea to consult your physician before your appointment. The more information your therapist has to work with the more productive your lymphatic drainage massage will be. Absolute contraindications for this style of bodywork include:

  • Infection

  • Kidney failure

  • Heart failure

  • Blood clots

Pro-tips to Improve Lymphatic Flow

In addition to keeping active, eating right, and staying hydrated, increase lymphatic flow with dry brushing. Dry brushing exfoliates the skin, increases circulation, and improves lymphatic flow. The Reccsy 4-piece Dry Brush Body Set is all you need to perform lymphatic brushing. The set includes a stiffer exfoliating brush, a lymphatic body brush, a softer lymphatic face brush, and as a bonus a Gua Sha tool for lymphatic sculpting. Pro tip: add a drop or two of Rocky Mountain Oils Lymphatic Support Essential Oil Blend to your dry brush or your Gua Sha routine. Rocky Mountain Essential Oils are some of the best quality oils on the market. This calming and lymph-support oil contains a unique blend of oils in a coconut base that can be directly applied to the skin.

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