What is Lymphatic Drainage Massage Therapy and Who Can Benefit From It?

The lymphatic system plays an integral role in the function of the immune system. Not only does it help to fight infection but it also maintains fluid balance in the cells and around the body.

The lymphatic system is not found in a specific organ but is a network of tubes throughout the body that are connected by small lymph nodes.

These tiny structures, located in areas like the neck, armpits and groin, act as filters to help get rid of harmful and toxic substances. They also contain cells that assist the body in fighting infection.

With some health conditions, fluids in the lymph nodes can build up and cause swelling, most often because of bacterial and viral infections. Lymph node issues can often be seen in people who are undergoing treatment for cancer.

Here we look at lymphatic drainage massage and how this can help not only reduce swelling and move fluid more effectively through the lymphatic system.

Lymphatic drainage massage therapy

What is Lymphatic Drainage Massage Therapy?

While it is called lymphatic drainage massage therapy, it’s more of a manipulation technique rather than a traditional massage activity.

Often considered as a form of detox therapy, lymphatic massage involves using a range of light stretching, cupping and compression movements to help lymphatic fluid release and travel through the system. It needs to be carried out by a skilled professional and it can have several therapeutic effects.

The massage technique can be applied to all areas of the lymphatic system and involves two clear processes: clearing and reabsorption.

Clearing essentially creates a small vacuum in the lymph node that then prepares the system to bring more fluid in through reabsorption. The whole process can take up to 20 minutes and is non-invasive and not painful.

Unless you have a blockage in the lymph nodes of the neck and head, you generally lie down to receive this kind of treatment. You should feel light, gentle pressure and the movements are usually slow and rhythmic under a skilled practitioner.

Individuals can be taught to carry out a manual massage on themselves which can provide temporary relief.

If you have severe conditions such as inflammation, cancer in the area where there is a blockage, a heart problem or a diagnosed blood clot, lymphatic drainage massage is not appropriate.

A Brief History of Lymphatic Massage Therapy

You might be surprised to hear that the lymphatic drainage massage therapy stretches back almost 100 years. The pioneer of the system we see today was Emil Vodder who developed the technique after suffering from poor health in the 1930s.

Almost 20 years later, the massage technique was beginning to be picked up by doctors across the globe, especially in relation to lymphoedema, a common chronic condition that causes swelling. Vodder combined his massage technique with dietary changes and exercise to help his patients.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Emil Vodder’s lymphatic drainage massage therapy started to gain popularity in the US and the range of health problems it could potentially help with, began to expand.

Also in the 70s German professors, Michael and Etelka Foeldi developed the first clinic associated with the practice, not only providing treatments but also training more people to be able to perform it. Today, lymphatic drainage massage is more widely available in mainstream medicine and in particular, integrative healthcare clinics.

Benefits of Lymphatic Massage Therapy and Who It Can Help

Because it is linked to our immune system, dysfunction in the lymphatic system can affect our overall health. In modern times, manipulating the lymph nodes is seen as a way of enhancing skincare and also promoting general wellness.

If someone leads a sedentary lifestyle, it can affect how well the lymph system works. Unlike our blood vessels, it requires movement and activity to stimulate action.

There is research which suggests that manual massage of the lymphatic system can help with conditions such as fibromyalgia and recovery from a sports injury, although more study needs to be carried out here. There can be a variety of reasons why this area of the body gets blocked, including infection, medication and trauma.

Lymphoedema can occur as a result of cancer treatment and the therapy has been shown to relieve this. Massage therapy is also used to provide relief for a range of different conditions from rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue to recovery from surgery, edema and digestive disorders.