What Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage? And Does It Actually Do Anything?

Fluid buildup can cause swelling and discomfort in the lymph nodes if your lymphatic system is damaged or under attack. A lymphatic drainage massage can help.

A lymphatic massage can help to move your lymphatic system along if you have a lot of waste or toxins. Here’s how it works.

Massage facts for lymphatic drainage

What’s it all about? A lymphatic drain massage is a gentle treatment that helps lymph fluids (aka Lymph) flow more easily.

What are the advantages? Lymphatic drain massage may help reduce swelling and increase circulation. It may be beneficial for people with lymphedema or other conditions that are linked to lymph accumulation, such as lymphedema.

How can you get one? Contact a professional such as a physical therapist, who is trained in this practice, or learn techniques that you can use at home.

What is lymphatic drainage massage?

Lymphatic drainage massage is a gentle, slow stroke that applies light pressure to the skin. Massaging the skin can stimulate the lymph vessels to contract, allowing fluid to move from swollen parts to other areas.

Regular movement is sufficient to stimulate the lymph system and allow fluid flow throughout the body. Lymphedema is a condition where lymph fluid builds up. This can happen to people with certain diseases or damaged lymph nodes. This swelling is often seen in the legs and arms.

Complete decongestive treatment (CDT), which is a multifaceted approach to reducing swelling caused by problems in the lymphatic system, usually includes lymphatic drainage massage. There are four components to CDT:

  1. Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): A massage technique to increase lymph flow
  2. Compression: wearing clothing or bandages that place pressure on a body part
  3. Exercises: movements to stimulate drainage
  4. Skin Care: Treating skin conditions caused by swelling

What is lymphatic drainage massage?

Professional lymphatic drainage massage is often recommended by doctors after lymph node surgical procedures to reduce the symptoms of lymphedema. Lymphedema is common for patients with breast cancer.

We’ll be truthful, however, that research regarding the efficacy of lymphatic drainage massage in treating lymphedema has been mixed.

  • Researchers found that manual lymphatic drainage massage combined with compression bandages was better than using bandages alone in a 2015 review of breast cancer-related Lymphedema.
  • Researchers found that lymphatic massage did not significantly reduce or prevent lymphedema after breast cancer surgery in a small review of 12 studies.
  • Another study showed that CDT — again a combination of manual lymphatic drainage and compression therapy, skin care, exercises, and skin care — reduces limb swelling.
  • A small research review found that manual lymphatic drainage massage was not supported by evidence, based upon 8 studies on chronic lymphedema.

For now, it is not clear if lymphatic massage is effective. However, people have reported improvement. It is usually a safe treatment and worth considering.

Lymphatic massage may also have other benefits

Other than lymphedema, lymphatic drainage massage can also be used. Although not fully proven, this technique can be used to treat:

  • arthritis
  • digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • fibromyalgia
  • insomnia
  • migraine attacks
  • swelling (aka edema)
  • skin disorders
  • stress

What does research tell us about lymphatic massage as a complement to lymphedema treatment? The research is still limited and uncertain. Here are the facts:

  • In a 2015 review, researchers found that lymphatic massage may be more effective than connective tissue massage in relieving fibromyalgia symptoms such as stiffness and depression.
  • A study with 52 participants found that lymphatic massage was significantly more effective than abdominal massage or electric stimulation in improving constipation.

Risks of lymphatic drainage massage

Although lymphatic massage is safe for most people it can pose a danger to those with certain conditions.

If you are unable to avoid lymphatic drainage,

  • Have an infection
  • A stroke or blood clots occurred?
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer in the area affected
  • You have kidney or liver problems

Where can I get a lymphatic drainage massage?

Your doctor may recommend a specialist if you are diagnosed with lymphedema. If you are not a certified lymphedema therapy (CLT) physical therapist, it is worth looking for one.

Do not assume that a massage therapist will give you a lymphatic treatment. A standard deep tissue massage may not be the same or too intense for people with lymphedema.

When you’ve found a qualified physical therapist to help you, be sure to let them know about any fluid imbalances. You should expect them to use a gentle touch that will not cause any pain or swelling.

How to perform a lymphatic drainage massaging

If you are thinking of massage as a way to relax tight muscles and get rid of tension, then dial it down. Lymphatic massage does not require any pressure. You can reach the lymph structures that you want to target from just below your skin. It is gentler than you would for a newborn kitten or baby.

There are two main steps to this:

  1. Clearing: using gentle pressure, to drain lymph from your tissues
  2. Reabsorption using gentle pumping and sweeping motions to move the lymph back to your lymph nodes

This is what a DIY lymphatic treatment might look like.


Your certified lymphedema therapist will be able to help you learn how to properly perform any self-massage before you attempt it. You can self-massage for up to two times per day. Each session lasts approximately 20 minutes.

Tips before you get started

  • Get plenty of water.
  • You can lie down or take the most comfortable position. You should feel relaxed and not in pain or strain.
  • Keep your movements slow and easy.
  • Relax your hands.
  • Do not use your fingertips, but the flat portion of your hand.
  • Massage areas that aren’t swollen in order to allow excess fluid to flow.
  • If you have a serious infection, do not perform lymphatic drainage massage.

Get ready to prepare your body

Instead of massaging, imagine yourself petting your skin. Your skin will be gently stretched if you run your hand along it. Then, your normal position will return to.

Concentrate your movements on lymph nodes clustered in the neck and underarms. These steps will prepare your lymphatic system for clearing.

  • Take five deep, slow breaths. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth.
  • Front of the neck. Massage with a “J”, above your collarbone. From the outer part of the neck to the middle of the neck. Repeat this 10-15 times.
  • Side neck. Move your neck from the front to the back, rubbing the sides. Repeat this 10-15 times.
  • Back of neck. Massage your back from the hairline to the base of your neck on each side. Repeat this 10-15 times.

These massage techniques are worth a try

These techniques can be used to massage your legs and arms after you have completed the preparation steps. Use slow, gentle movements and keep your hands relaxed.

For your upper body

  • Start under your arms. Your opposite arm should be under your arms. Then pull the skin towards the front of your body, and then let go. Repeat this 10-15 times.
  • From your hip bone to your armpit, move the side of you body. Repeat this 10-15 times.

For your legs

  • Start at the knee and place your hands on the inner leg. Massage the outside of your leg, moving up towards the hip. Continue to massage for 15 seconds, then move on to the next section. Each section, from the knee to your groin, should be repeated 15 times.
  • Place your hands behind the knee. Use a rolling upward motion to massage the area 15 times.
  • Start with one hand on your ankle, and the other on your back. Reach upwards toward the knee fifteen times.
  • Rotate your skin from the outside to the inside of your ankle.
  • Massage your feet upwards from the toes to the ankle.


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