What Is a Lymphatic Massage and Is It a Good Idea?

What Is a Lymphatic Massage and Is It a Good Idea?

Jan 27, 2023 | Health and Wellness

Many patients rely on pain and inflammation management medication during their plastic surgery recovery period, but this only addresses the symptoms of these conditions. A golden bullet would be a postoperative treatment option that alleviates pain, reduces swelling, and speeds up the healing process, and some believe that they have found this in the form of lymphatic drainage massages.

A lymphatic drainage massage is a type of massage that aims to stimulate the body’s lymphatic system to: 

  • Improve blood circulation
  • Enhance immune function
  • Reduce swelling
  • Speed up the healing process in general

While the benefits of lymphatic drainage massages are beyond dispute, we must clarify their use after a procedure. Some medical professionals claim that it disrupts the body’s natural healing process.

To help you decide if a lymphatic drainage massage is appropriate for you, Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon Dr. William J. Vinyard, MD, FACS, and his team of experts have compiled everything you need to know.

What Is a Lymphatic Massage?

A lymphatic drainage massage, also called manual lymphatic drainage, uses specific techniques to stimulate the lymphatic system, a network of tissues and organs that help protect the body against infections and diseases. 

What Is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system comprises a network of lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and other organs, such as the tonsils, thymus, and spleen. The lymphatic system is essential because it helps rid the body of waste and toxins and protects it against infections. As such, the lymphatic system is sometimes referred to as the body’s garbage disposal.

Lymph vessels are similar to veins, but they carry a clear fluid called lymph instead of blood. These vessels are found throughout the body; they transport lymph from the tissues to the lymph nodes (small, bean-shaped structures). They contain white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help fight infections.

The spleen, thymus, and tonsils are also part of the lymphatic system. The spleen is an organ found in the abdomen that helps filter blood and remove bacteria and other foreign substances. The thymus is a chest gland that plays a role in the immune system, and the tonsils are small throat glands that help fight infections.

Overall, the lymphatic system keeps the body healthy by removing waste and fighting infections. Manual lymphatic drainage relies on gentle pressure applied to the skin to activate the lymph system.

How Do Lymphatic Drainage Massages Work?

Occasionally, the lymphatic system can fail, leading to a build-up of lymph fluid known as lymphedema. Lymphedema comes in two forms, primary and secondary lymphedema. The former is a genetic condition, while the latter refers to the disruption of lymphatic flow through external factors such as trauma and surgery.

In patients who experience lymphedema, excess fluid builds up in non-central parts of the body, such as the upper arm or lower leg, causing swelling. Other lymphedema symptoms include

  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Mobility issues
  • The secretion of lymph fluid through the skin

Manual lymphatic drainage treatment uses a light-pressure massage technique to unblock the vessels, thereby returning lymph flow to normal and reabsorbing the lymphatic fluid into your lymph nodes. A trained massage therapist will use sweeping motions over swollen areas to alleviate the symptoms of lymphedema.

What Are the Different Lymphatic Drainage Massage Techniques?

A massage therapist who administers a manual lymphatic drainage massage has several techniques at their disposal. These sessions usually begin and end with patients taking deep breaths. The unaffected vessels and lymph nodes are massaged first, after which the congested areas are treated.

The different approaches to a lymphatic drainage massage are:

  • Vodder: Different hand postures and strokes are used on different body parts.
  • Foldi: A variant of the Vodder approach but with an emphasis on circular movement.
  • Casley-Smith: Uses the sides of the hands to create small effleurage (i.e., a light friction technique) movements.
  • Leduc: Alongside the physical therapy aspects of their treatment, patients treated with the Leduc approach are also given lifestyle guidance, such as skin care advice, and are encouraged to partake in physical activity.

Potential Benefits of Lymphatic Massage

Besides treating lymphedema, a lymphatic drainage massage can alleviate other health problems. A 2018 study published in the Nature Reviews Rheumatology Journal found that manual lymph drainage is a promising treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, a study published in the Archives of Medical Science noted that lymphatic drainage massages could greatly improve the symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency, a condition affecting blood flow in the legs.

What Are the Side Effects of Lymphatic Massage?

While a lymphatic drainage massage effectively alleviates various health conditions, it is accompanied by side effects like any other treatment option.

The side effects of the drainage of lymphatic fluid can include: 

  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Lymphatic massages are generally considered a safe treatment, except for patients with certain illnesses such as blood clots, heart disease, kidney problems, or an existing infection.

Does Lymphatic Massage Hurt?

Since it uses very light pressure, a lymphatic drainage massage rarely results in considerable pain or discomfort. While a connective tissue massage relies on deep pressure, very little force is required for a lymph drainage massage and the subsequent reduction of swelling.

Is Lymphatic Massage Worth It?

A lymph drainage massage effectively reduces swelling and treats specific health conditions, such as lymphedema. However, its utility is less clear as a postoperative pain and healing management tool. As such, Dr. Vinyard and his team of experts suggest letting the skin and tissue around your surgical site heal naturally without the interference of a lymphatic massage. If you are in a surgical post-operative phase, make sure to discuss lymphatic massage with your doctor before undergoing treatment.

Start Your Plastic Surgery Journey at VIPS!

As you consider your body rejuvenation goals, Dr. Vinyard and his team of experts wield many options for improving your body’s aesthetic. Plastic surgery can be an incredible addition to your treatment plan, and Dr. Vinyard and his team of experts are ready to support you in achieving your aesthetic goals. Contact us to schedule a personal consultation, or call (772) 362-3357 to find out the next steps in your plastic surgery journey! Our office at 291 NW Peacock Blvd, Suite 103, Port St. Lucie, FL 34986, proudly serves the South Florida area! We also invite you to check out our blog page, Facebook, and Instagram to learn more about the treatment options available at our office!

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