Lymphatic Drainage Massage Explained


By Peter Shin, LMT, LMBT, CLT

Peter Shin is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Lymphedema Therapist, Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist within the Alternative Pain Management program at Gentle Wellness Center.

What is Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

Differently types of massages can be used to relieve pain but each massage offers specific kind of benefits. Lymphatic drainage massage is formally called Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD). The technique was originally developed in Germany, and used for treating lymphedema, which a form of swelling that is caused after lymph nodes are surgically removed. The swelling occurs due to an excess build-up of lymph fluid in soft tissues.

Peter Shin

MLD massage or therapy helps these fluids to move around in the body. This massage also helps in assisting the lymphatic system to maintain the body’s fluid balance and immune system. It also helps in improving the blood circulation and remove the waste and toxins from the body tissues. Lymph is a part of the body’s network of nodes vessels. Lymph consists of proteins, water, waste products, immune system components and remains of cell metabolism. Lymph nodes work towards filtering out the debris and are located all over the body, although large collections of lymph nodes are in the armpits, neck and groin. These groups of lymph nodes act as guards and make sure that lymph passes through as many nodes as possible before it gets back into the circulatory system.

A specially trained therapist performs the lymphatic drainage massage by applying very light pressure with long and rhythmic strokes that allows the lymph fluid to move. While doing so, they ensure that their strokes direct the toxin containing fluids into organs that can get rid of them. The therapist may also apply some pressure to certain points in order to re-stimulate them and revive the natural contractions of the lymphatic system.

What Conditions Can Lymphatic Drainage Massage Treat?

Lymphatic drainage massage is beneficial in many different ways. Apart from helping the body to detox naturally by assisting in eliminating the toxins, lymphatic drainage offers the following benefits:

  • Assists in fighting of infections
  • Helps the body recover from cold and flu
  • Helps in reduction of water retention
  • Beneficial for weight loss
  • Assists in getting rid of excess cellulite, tissue swelling, scar tissue, acne and stretch marks
  • Reduces stress and fatigue
  • Good for recovering after vigorous exercise

Lymphatic drainage massage is also helpful in treating other serious conditions such as insomnia, arthritis, digestive issues, orthopedic injuries and fibromyalgia. It is also beneficial for post-surgical recovery.

What are the Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage Massage For Cancer Patients?

Lymphatic drainage massage is particularly helpful for breast cancer patients. After mastectomy, breast cancer patients tend to develop lymphedema because the lymph nodes are mostly removed during surgery. Such patients suffer from chronic pain and swelling which can be dangerous in the long term. Lymphatic drainage massage helps by reducing lymphatic congestion. For breast cancer patients, very light and gentle stretching strokes are applied so that the lymph nodes under the clavicle and contra-lateral side, which is the non-swollen arm are stimulated.

How Effective is Lymphatic Drainage Massage For Lymphedema?

Up to 25 percent of breast cancer patients whose surgery includes removal of lymph nodes in the area of the armpit eventually develop lymphedema. The condition can also occur in the legs or other parts of the body if lymph nodes are removed in the course of other types of surgery – for melanoma, colon, prostate or bladder cancer, for example – or are damaged by radiation treatment, infection or trauma. Symptoms include swelling and pain near the site of the removed or damaged lymph nodes. Lymphedema can occur immediately after radiation therapy or surgery, or weeks, months, and even years later.

Is it Safe to Get a Lymphatic Drainage Massage? (I’ve heard that Lymphatic Drainage Massage may have contraindications and may spread the cancer.)

A physician should clear a breast cancer patient for lymphatic drainage massage.
Cancer may spread or metastasize into the lymphatic system through the lymph nodes. Cancer may start in the lymphatic system as well, but lymphatic drainage massage creates circulation of lymph and does not cause cancer to spread. For the most part lymphatic drainage massage is safe. As it is done with gentle strokes, there is almost no risk of damage to the tissue. However, there are a few conditions in which increased circulation of lymph fluid could be dangerous. We may advise you to get a clearance from your physician in certain cases. Contraindications to lymphatic drainage massage include existence of malignant tumors, acute inflammation, major heart problems and thrombosis. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have more questions to know about lymphatic drainage massage and how it can help.