RubmdHealth TipHow the Benefits of Lymph Drainage Massage Can Enhance Your Health

How the Benefits of Lymph Drainage Massage Can Enhance Your Health

Lymph drainage massage is a gentle massage technique focused on moving extra fluid and waste products from tissues back into lymph vessels and nodes. This type of massage aims to stimulate the lymphatic system to remove congestion and stagnation. When the lymphatic system is compromised, fluid builds up leading to swelling, also known as lymphedema. Massage helps reduce swelling and improve overall functioning of the lymphatic system.

How the Lymphatic System Works

The lymphatic system is responsible for cleaning and filtering lymph fluid as well as transporting white blood cells throughout the body. It plays a key role in immune function by collecting and trapping bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances. Additionally, the lymphatic system absorbs and transports fatty acids and fats as lymph from the small intestine during digestion.

White blood cells use the network of lymphatic vessels to travel throughout the body, defending it from pathogens. Over time, waste materials from cells as well as toxins and foreign matter accumulate in this fluid. The lymphatic system filters and cleans the lymph fluid through lymph nodes stationed throughout the body. There are about 600 lymph nodes divided into groups in the arms, legs, neck, chest and abdomen.

When the lymphatic system slows down and lymph drainage is impeded, a buildup of fluid occurs which causes swelling and inflammation. Sluggish circulation allows bacteria to proliferate leading to infection. A compromised lymphatic system impairs the bodyโ€™s natural ability to detoxify which may result in a number of health issues.

How Lymph Drainage Massage Works

Lymph drainage massage uses a special massage technique involving gentle rhythmic circular motions to stimulate lymph flow. Also known as lymphatic drainage or lymphatic massage, this therapy encourages the natural drainage of the lymph from the tissues space back into the lymph vessels. From there it returns to the blood circulation system.

This gently pumping action moves the lymph through the lymphatic network, redirecting it into areas that need drainage. As the lymph fluid flows, waste products and toxins are filtered out. By increasing lymph flow and drainage, swelling is reduced. The massage essentially mimics the major functions of the lymphatic system.

A typical lymph drainage massage lasts between 30 to 60 minutes. It is performed by a certified lymphatic drainage therapist and focuses primarily on the neck, armpits and groin where many lymph nodes are located. However, the massage technique can be used to drain puffy and swollen tissues throughout the body.

Lymph drainage massage uses special hand movements and pressures:

  • Superficial lymphatic massage involves featherlight brushing strokes just below the surface of the skin which activates superficial lymph vessels.
  • Deeper rotary pressures redirect lymph flow by moderately stretching the tissues and stimulating lymphatic vessel contraction.
  • Stationary circles performed with the fingers or thumbs simulate the pumping action of lymph nodes.

The amount of pressure varies depending on the condition being addressed and ranges from light to moderate.

Conditions that Benefit From Lymph Drainage Massage

There are a variety of health conditions that cause the lymphatic system to slow down and fluid to accumulate in the tissues. By stimulating lymph flow and drainage, many issues associated with lymphedema and chronic inflammation can be improved.


Lymphedema refers to localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system. Abnormal enlargement of an arm or leg due to excess fluid is the most common type of lymphedema. It may be inherited or result from surgery, radiation therapy or trauma.

The gentle pumping movements of lymph drainage massage have been shown to significantly reduce swelling and discomfort related with lymphedema in multiple studies. By redirecting fluid back into lymph channels, drainage massage therapy can help decrease limb size in lymphedema patients.

Chronic Inflammation

Lymph drainage massage helps chronic inflammatory conditions by increasing lymph flow which filters out pathogenic toxins. Reducing swelling and edema in affected areas alleviates pressure in inflamed nerves and tissues. The gentle stretching massage movements may also decrease fibrosis and scar tissue over time.

Conditions characterized by chronic inflammation that may benefit from lymph drainage massage include arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome and autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia.

Surgical Recovery

After surgery such as a mastectomy or lymph node removal, drainage pathways are disturbed which commonly results in excess fluid and swelling. Multiple research studies have found lymph drainage massage helps improve post-operative healing and decrease pain in addition to reducing swelling after surgery. The technique is often incorporated into breast cancer treatment to manage lymphedema.

Skin Health

By detoxifying tissues and improving circulation of nutrient-rich fluid, it promotes healthy skin function. Gentle rhythmic pumping motions increase oxygen and flush cellular debris, waste and bacteria out through lymphatic channels. As a result, complexion clarity is enhanced. Skin issues that may benefit include acne, rosacea and eczema.

Contraindications for Lymph Drainage Massage

While it offers many benefits, the therapy may not be appropriate for some health conditions or situations:

  • Existing infections, inflammatory skin disorders or cancerous tumors which can spread due to increased circulation
  • Immediately after surgery until drainage pathways re-establish
  • Kidney failure or liver disease when detoxification pathways are very compromised
  • Cardiovascular conditions including deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary edema, congestive heart failure
  • Hypersensitivity or allergies to massage lotions or oils

Itโ€™s important to consult your doctor before pursuing this therapy if pregnant, have a serious health condition or take blood-thinning medications. Inform your therapist regarding any issues so the treatment can be customized as needed.

Potential Side Effects

While lymph drainage massage is generally very safe when performed by a trained therapist, there are a few potential side effects to be aware of:

Mild Discomfort

Some people report mild discomfort, achiness or sore muscles for 1-2 days after having a lymph drainage massage session. This usually resolves on it’s own with rest. Inform your therapist if any discomfort persists longer than 48 hours.


The gentle rhythmic pumping techniques may rarely cause some superficial bruising where blood vessels are close to the skin’s surface, such as the back of the leg. Bruises typically fade within 7-10 days. Those on blood-thinning medications are more prone to bruising.


An inflammatory response can sometimes occur after massage, especially when there is an underlying infection or chronic inflammatory condition. Massage moves fluid more rapidly through tissues which may spread inflammation rather than flush it out if lymph channels are already overwhelmed.


In rare cases,lymph drainage massage on the neck area can cause mild headaches immediately afterwards for those prone to migraines. Stay well hydrated before and after appointment to help prevent this reaction.


Some people report increased fatigue lasting up to a day after having lymph drainage massage on areas of chronic swelling. Rest is recommended as the body continues flushing out built-up fluid and waste products.

Choosing a Lymphatic Drainage Massage Therapist

Since lymph drainage massage uses specialized techniques, it’s important to choose a well-trained and certified practitioner. Be sure your therapist has undergone substantive training specific to lymphatic massage. Lymphedema clinics, holistic wellness centers and medical spas often have qualified practitioners. Check credentials and qualifications thoroughly before booking.

The Lymphology Association of North America (LANA) provides a national directory to find certified lymphedema therapists in your area. You can also ask your doctor for a referral. Selecting an experienced professional ensures you receive quality therapy tailored to your health needs. With proper training, lymph drainage massage is very low risk when precautions and contraindications are taken seriously.

What to Expect During a Session

At your first appointment, the massage therapist takes your detailed health history to identify any contraindications or areas needing special attention. Plan to disclose any past surgeries, chronic issues, infections or allergies.

  • You remove clothing down to your underwear or change into comfortable loose clothing
  • Specialized oil is applied to allow smooth gliding strokes
  • Gentle massage pressure stimulates movement of lymph fluid through pathways
  • Neck, underarms, abdomen and groin areas are common focus points
  • Session lasts 30-60 minutes
  • Afterwards you can immediately resume normal activities

If seeking massage for a specific condition, daily or weekly sessions for a period of weeks may be recommended for optimal results. Maintenance appointments help sustain improvements. Throughout the session, communication with your therapist ensures pressure and technique stay comfortable for you.

Is Lymph Drainage Massage Covered By Insurance?

Most standard health insurance plans do not cover lymph drainage therapy. Policies regarding alternative practices are still catching up as research continues to demonstrate clinical effectiveness for lymphatic massage.

Some plans may partially reimburse sessions if you have already been diagnosed with lymphedema. Contact your provider to learn about your policyโ€™s coverage details.

Out-of-pocket costs for private pay lymph drainage massage range from $80 to $150 per hour-long session depending on your location and the practitionerโ€™s qualifications. Packages of multiple appointments are often available at discounted rates from massage therapists.


Is lymph drainage massage relaxing?

Yes, the light rhythmic strokes, when performed by a trained therapist, are very relaxing and calming for most people. It’s gentler than traditional Swedish or deep tissue massage techniques. The focus is to gently stretch tissues and pump circulation rather than needing intense pressure.

How often can you get a lymphatic drainage massage?

For a specific health condition like lymphedema or post-surgery swelling, it may be recommended to undergo lymph drainage massage 3-5 days per week for 4-6 weeks. For maintenance or general health benefits, weekly or monthly sessions are common if time and budget allow.

Should lymph drainage massage hurt?

No, this specialized massage is designed to be gentle enough not to cause pain or discomfort. Mild muscle soreness 1-2 days afterwards can occasionally happen. Excessive pressure should always be avoided to protect vulnerable lymph vessels. Communicate with your therapist so they can adjust if any discomfort occurs.

When should you avoid lymph drainage massage?

Those with infections, blood clots, heart failure, kidney issues or cancer should avoid this therapy until their health stabilizes under doctor supervision. Pregnant women may pursue very gentle lymphatic massage but require adjustment of techniques. If unsure, check with your physician first about massage precautions.

What type of oil is used?

Specialized lymph drainage massage is performed using very light oils like grapeseed or hazelnut oil which allow nearly frictionless gliding motions without pulling on skin. Allergies to ingredients should always be disclosed beforehand.


Gentle, rhythmic lymph drainage massage performed by a certified professional helps stimulate flow, drainage and filtering functions of the lymphatic system. By reducing swelling and inflammation, this therapy relieves discomfort and supports healing for various conditions like lymphedema, arthritis, migraines, infections, surgical recovery and skin issues. When precautions are taken into account, increasing lymph circulation through massage offers many benefits.

Dr. Erika Salam (Derma)
Dr. Erika Salam (Derma)
DR Erika Salam is MD - Dermatology & VL, doctor at ๐™Ž๐™๐™ž๐™Ÿ๐™– ๐—จ๐—ฟ๐—ฏ๐—ฎ๐—ป, loves to write about Skin and Hair problems on the web.

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