What Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

What is lymphatic drainage massage?

With so many massage modalities out there, you may be asking yourself which one is right for you. The good news: probably most of them! Every modality has unique benefits, and different modalities may be indicated depending on how your body and mind are feeling in the moment. Have you ever experienced swelling in your legs or ankles after a long flight? Or felt your body to be heavy and stiff after a period of illness? Just as you might seek out deep tissue massage for muscle tension, lymphatic drainage massage would be the way to go for a blocked or sluggish lymphatic system that has you feeling stiffness, swelling, brain fog, or fatigue.

Gentle, rhythmic strokes are used in lymphatic drainage massage.

What is lymphatic drainage massage?

This massage modality is based on a gentle, rhythmic touch that encourages lymph flow along the body’s natural pathways.

Each practitioner will approach the work differently, but you can typically expect a combination of gentle compressions, slow stretch of the superficial tissues, and light effleurage. Moving systematically around regions of the body, the therapist clears nodes and moves lymph in the direction of collection sites at the neck, armpit, and groin.

The depth and direction of touch are the most important components of the modality, stimulating the lymph system to work more efficiently and helping it move the lymph fluids back to the heart. In addition to the numerous benefits discussed below, the slow pace and gentle pressure of this massage also make it a highly relaxing experience for the client. This encourages the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and an overall body reset.

Clients may hear their stomach gurgle, experience coldness in the hands and feet, and feel the need to urinate immediately after the massage. For this reason, it is always a good idea to empty the bladder before starting a lymphatic drainage massage!

What’s the deal with the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system has many functions including protecting the body from illness-causing invaders, maintaining body fluid levels, supporting the digestive system, and removing toxins and cellular waste. It is primarily made up of vessels that provide a transport system for lymphatic fluid, nodes that filter the lymphatic fluid, and organs including the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus. When the lymphatic system is functioning properly, we feel healthy and have a strong defense against illness. When the system is weakened or blocked, we can feel tired, have swelling, and be more susceptible to infections and illness.

Lymph is a collection of the excess fluid that drains from cells and tissues plus other substances like proteins, minerals, fats, nutrients, damaged cells, and foreign invaders. The lymphatic vessels pick up this fluid and transport it back to general circulation. Along the way it passes through lymph nodes that monitor and cleanse the fluid, removing debris and damaged cells. The lymph nodes also contain immune system cells that attack and destroy bacteria and other harmful substances in the fluid.

Unlike the circulatory system that has its own dedicated pump (the heart!), the lymphatic system relies on the involvement of the muscles to move fluid around the body. Muscle contractions provide the push the lymph vessels need to continuously inch the fluid forward. A blockage due to scar tissue or infection can disrupt the healthy flow of lymph, and long periods of sitting or an inactive lifestyle can also cause a slowdown in the system.

Hands-on practice in the classroom involves several different modalities.

Who is a good candidate for lymphatic drainage massage?

Just about everyone can benefit from lymphatic drainage massage! It may be a good idea to incorporate into a self-care routine just as you would yoga or meditation. This modality can be supportive of general wellness, and has numerous benefits including:

  • improved immune function
  • reduced stress and fatigue
  • relief from headaches, migraines, sinus pain, and seasonal allergies
  • improved digestion and relief of intestinal pain
  • reduced pain and swelling following surgery or soft tissue injury
  • reduced swelling brought on by long periods of immobility in which fluids may stagnate

There are some conditions for which this massage is especially beneficial including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and some forms of arthritis. Clients experiencing lymphedema, a chronic swelling condition that often develops after cancer treatments, can also be greatly benefitted from the proper application of lymphatic drainage massage.

It should be noted that there are a few cases in which this therapy is contraindicated including: deep vein thrombosis, renal failure, cardiac or pulmonary edema, and acute skin infections.

Overall, it is safe to say that lymphatic drainage massage is a therapy recommended for everyone, and there is also promising research being done that this modality could have far reaching benefits for certain autoimmune conditions and cancers. So, if you are feeling a bit sluggish or bloated, recovering from a period of illness or injury, or are simply interested in boosting your immune system while destressing, ask your massage therapist about lymphatic drainage massage!

Licensed Massage Therapists looking to add the skills of manual lymphatic drainage massage to their toolkit should follow the link below to learn about the certification offered at the Costa Rica School of Massage Therapy.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage Certification

Upper body lymphatic drainage strokes

Written by: Kat Parker, LMT


Kat is a licensed massage therapist, CRSMT alum, and Kinesiology enthusiast. She has been teaching in various capacities since 2001, and has worked with the Costa Rica School of Massage Therapy and Yoga since 2014. She fell in love with the study of muscles and bones while a student in Costa Rica, fascinated with the complexities and intricacies of the human body and the marvelous way it all comes together. Kat has contributed her efforts and expertise to CRSMT in multiple roles including Clinic Supervisor, Operations Manager, Dean of Students, Teaching Assistant, and Instructor. She has a special knack for curriculum development and coordination, as well as a unique ability to facilitate the learning of kinesiology. In 2019 she moved back to the US to focus full time on her massage practice, and she is currently thriving at a busy massage studio in San Antonio, TX and developing continuing education classes that she hopes to offer in the coming years. Since discovering her passion for massage and massage education she has never looked back, taking every opportunity to learn and grow and to pass that curiosity on to her students.

The Costa Rica School of Massage Therapy offers a 40 hour NCBTMB Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage Certification course.

Complete the form below to learn more about the lymphatic drainage massage continuing education course and certification:


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