What is a Lymphatic Drainage Massage, how to do it and Why should you Get One?

Nowadays it seems lymphatic drainage massages are becoming very popular, different celebrities talk wonders of it in the magazines and tabloids. But how much of it it’s true? What benefits can this type of massage bring? Most people are familiar with Swedish or body contouring massage, but today we will talk about a type of massage that can give you an overall boost to your immune system: The Manual Lymphatic Drainage.

What is a Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

In order to understand what a lymphatic massage is, we have to get a little familiar with the lymphatic system. We are talking about a network of organs, vessels and tissues that transport lymph through the body, an infection fighting fluid carrying white blood cells to combat toxins. One can think of it as an organic toxin disposal system. The lymph also has the task to transport nutrients and deliver messages to other cells helping them work correctly.

Therefore, a lymphatic drainage massage is a gentle massage that helps to boost the lymphatic system by improving the lymph flow and removing “body waste”. Injuries caused by accidents, surgery or other medical conditions can create accumulation of fluids on the lymph node and system. The lymphatic system is near the surface of the skin, so gentle low-pressure massages can do wonders for the skin and reduce the chance of obstructing the conducts.

Origins of Lymphatic Drainage Massages

These types of massages also known as MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) are quite recent in the history of medicine. It was studied by a married couple of medical doctors, Emil and Estrid Vodder who developed the practice of lymphology around the 1930’s. The couple studied the lymphatic system treating patients in the French Riviera, developing a system of gentle strokes, gliding, stretching, twisting and cupping movements allowing the lymph to move through the tissues and nodes.

The improvement of the French patients became very popular making the practice of lymphatic drainage the recommended treatment for lymphedema. Specially in cancer patients due to the damage in the lymphatic system caused by chemotherapy. The Vodder couple spend their lives treating patients and teaching their technique that has become the standard procedure for manual lymphatic drainage. However different practices have developed since then, like in the 70’s in Germany or more recent in the United States.

What are the benefits of getting a Lymphatic Drainage Massage?

As the popularity of MLD has increased more people have incorporated these massages to their health care routines expecting to remove toxins of the body. Cosmetologists recommend lymphatic drainage massage after surgery to reduce swelling and eliminate any byproducts of the anesthetic’s drugs. Many spa places offer MLD as part of their services for detox, facial care and rejuvenation, stress management and antihistaminic.

Some of the benefits of lymphatic drainage massage include:

  • Diminishes headaches (excellent for people who suffer from migraines).
  • Improves skin health (specially for conditions like rosacea or acne).
  • Decongestive.
  • Improves the quality of sleep.
  • Anti-inflammatory.
  • Improves wound healing and scarring.
  • Detoxifying effect.

Nevertheless, MLD it’s not recommended for people with previous conditions such as:

  • Kidney failure.
  • Liver related problems.
  • Congestive heart failure.
  • History of stroke or blood clots.

Is lymphatic drainage massage right for me?

Unless people know exactly what they’re looking for, its normal to go for a more conventional massage than for a MLD. And regular massages generally do the work, leaving your muscles and joints relaxed and renewed, besides all the other benefits a deep tissue massage can have over your nervous system. However, going for a lymphatic drainage massage can get you an extra cleansing effect that can be noted immediately. 

If you’re thinking of taking a lymphatic drainage massage after a surgery, an injury or a season change you’ll be obtaining a revitalizing massage that will revitalize your whole self. It aims to restore the equilibrium of lymph fluid so your skin can oxygen and nutrients can be well absorbed.

Where can I find a Lymphatic massager?

You don’t need to go to a specialize clinic if you don’t want to, the lymphatic massage technique can be learned in a couple of hours. But if you want to be seen by a professional lymphatic drainage therapist, you can check our offers and book a 60 min session here.

What to expect of a Lymphatic Drainage massage?

The first thing most people notice about MLD is how gentle they can be specially when compared to contour massages. The purpose of this technique is to move the lymph around and help it flow easily, it doesn’t need the deep pressure of other types of massages. There are however, specific movements the lymphatic massager performs in order to do this.

The lymphatic drainage massage is performed from proximal to distal, this means it starts from the center of the body slowly moving towards the limbs. The lymphatic massager starts on certain lymph nodes gently draining the lymph out of them, moving the fluid on the way to the next node repeating the process several times. One can think of it like draining a cup while filling another, toxins move around and get eliminated. It can also help to get rid of water retention.

Will my health improve by getting a lymphatic drainage massage?

The whole idea of lymphology, its that an obstruct lymphatic system will generate different health issues, and dysfunctional lymphatic system can produce chronic swelling and/or lymphedema. Manual lymph drainage is often prescribed by physicians to people that has suffered a trauma or suffers from an autoimmune disease or cancer.

An overall healthy person who receives an MLD will have noticeable effects on their skin, will release tension and reduce any water retention and bloat. When we mean noticeable effects, we mean immediate effects after only a 60 minutes therapy, it takes only watching photos of lymphatic drainage massage before and after. Nevertheless, people with lymphatic dysfunction are the ones who will benefit the most out of a lymphatic drainage massage.

How to perform a lymphatic drainage massage

You can have a MLD done by a professional or you can learn how to do it yourself, it’s not rocket science. But it’s important to talk to your doctor before having the massage done by yourself or a professional. The massage can be done either standing, sitting or lying down, the only important thing is that you are relaxed and comfortable.

Preparing for a lymphatic massage

Despite the potential benefits on your lymphatic system, the preparation for a MLD is similar to any other conventional massage. This means it’s important to get sufficiently hydrated before and after the therapy. The more hydrated we are, the more possibilities of having an adequate lymphatic circulation and eliminating toxins.

Lymphatic breathing

Deep inhalations and exhalations will oxygenate blood and relax your body, the movement of lungs while breathing deep will move the lymphatic fluid throughout the lymph nodes as your chest and stomach rise and fall. Next you will:

  • Place the two hands on the stomach;
  • Inhale through your nose, making your stomach expand while your shoulders remain still;
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth making the stomach contract;
  • Rest between breaths; and
  • repeat several times.

Preparing each side of the neck

The neck is a delicate area of the body so one must be careful while massaging this zone where important lymph nodes are located. We will prepare each side of the neck:

  • We prepare the front of the neck by placing the index and middle fingers on both sides of the neck one finger above the collar bone and stretch the skin by softly sliding the fingers inward toward the middle of the collarbone.
  • Next, we prepare the side of our neck by placing the palm of our hands on each side of the neck and slowly move both hands down and back.
  • And finally place our palms on the back of the neck near the hairline, and softly slide both hands down the spine.

Preparing under the arms

On our armpits we can also find lymph nodes, these nodes must be prepared to receive the fluid from other areas like the neck, in order to do this we must:

  • Cup the palm of your hand under the armpit;
  • Softly pump the palm upward and toward the body;
  • Repeat several times in each armpit.

Preparing behind the knees

  • We place both our hands behind the knee making the tip of the finger point toward each other;
  • Softly pump by pressing the hands into the back of the knee and roll them upward;
  • Repeat several times on each knee.

Lymphatic drainage massage technique on the upper body

We will follow the MLD techniques and apply them on our chest, shoulders and arms.


  • Cross your arms and place your palms on your chest almost above the breast;
  • Move your palms up the chest towards the collarbone;
  • Go up the neck until the skin on your chest get tight;
  • Then softly release.


  • Rest your arm on a comfortable surface like a table or armrest;
  • Place your other hand on the resting shoulder;
  • Gently move the hand over the back of the shoulder and toward the neck.

Upper arm

  • Rest your arm on a comfortable surface like a table or armrest;
  • Place the two middle fingers of the other hand on the inside of the upper arm below the shoulder;
  • Softly glide the fingers toward the outside of the upper arm;
  • Wrap the hand around the outside of the upper arm;
  • Softly move the hand back toward the inside of the arm;

Rest of the arm

  • Begin at the shoulder;
  • Use the palm to stretch the skin upward;
  • Move the hand down to the upper arm and stretch the skin up toward the shoulder;
  • Continue down the arm always moving the skin upward;
  • Stop at the wrist.

Hands and fingers

  • Begin at the base of the swollen finger close to the palm;
  • Use the index finger and thumb to stretch the skin on the finger from the tip toward the hand;
  • Continue this motion over the entire finger;
  • Direct the lymph fluid toward the hand.

Lower body massage techniques

You will begin the massage from the top of the leg and work your way down toward the foot. Try to use a pillow or a stool with a cushion for support.

Upper leg:

  • Begin at the top of the leg;
  • Put one hand on the inside of the opposite thigh near the groin and place the other hand on the buttock;
  • Softly stretch the skin by moving the hand on the inside of the thigh toward the outside of the thigh and up;
  • Next you will move the hands further down the leg and repeat the stretching movement above.
  • Stop above the knee;

Lower leg

  • Begin the lymphatic massage right below the knee;
  • Place one hand on the shin while placing the other hand on the back of the calf;
  • Softly stretch the skin upward;
  • Continue this motion, working down toward the ankle and the top of the foot;
  • Always use upward strokes.


  • Use the thumb and index finger to guide fluid from the toes toward the foot.
  • It is vital to always end the massage by drinking extra fluids.

Other practices than can improve the lymphatic system

Cold water shower

A quick rinse with cold water can give an extra boost to your lymphatic system.

Dry brushing

Although dry brushes work best for exfoliating, they can have a great effect on blood circulation which can reduce bloat and cellulite by removing the lymph build ups on the muscles and tissues. We recommend to do firm but gentle brushes from the heart towards legs and arms until reaching the palm of the hands and feet.

Swim the toxins away

The pressure of the water against your body generates a compression that benefits the lymphatic circulation. If you add to that the aerobic workout and the deep beathing it generates you got yourself a very healthy activity.

Warm & Cold

Alternating between hot and cold water improves circulation and it could also benefit the lymphatic circulation as well. However, the scientific community claims there is not enough evidence to support this claim.

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