Feature Image by Toa Heftiba

If you’ve been to the spa lately, you might’ve seen lymphatic drainage massages on their menu of services. This kind of massage aims to drain your lymphatic system — the network of tissues and organs that get rid of toxins and waste. Is this claim scientifically accurate, though, or just a way to sell massages? And should you get one?

What it claims to do

“Due to flushing the lymphatic system of toxins, lymphatic drainage speeds up the body’s natural lymphatic system, which is what is responsible for ridding toxins, infections, viruses, and bacteria from the body,” explains Mia Shaughnessy, massage therapist and founder/CEO of Balance and Composure Massage.

“Lymphatic drainage massage can help those who are experiencing swelling in their arms or legs or those who have had mastectomies, liposuction, major surgeries, or Brazilian butt lift procedures,” says Shaughnessy. “Clients who have received lymphatic drainage on their face have had reports of reduced swelling and puffiness under the chin and under the eyes as well as decreased dark circles under eyes,” she adds. Others will use it just for general detoxing, says massage therapist Alison Angold.

Does it work?

“There is science behind the concept of a lymphatic drainage massage,” says Chris Airey, MD, medical director at Optimale and a practicing physician with the NHS. “Some health conditions can cause the buildup of lymph fluid in a certain area, preventing the lymph from clearing waste and toxins,” he says. “A lymphatic drainage massage may be helpful to improve lymphatic circulation. People experiencing fatigue, insomnia, migraines, swelling, or digestive issues may also have lymphatic system blockages.”

One review published in Manual Therapy found that lymphatic drainage massage reduced stiffness and depression and improved quality of life in people with fibromyalgia. Another review found that lymphatic drainage massage may help reduce lymphedema (swelling in arms or legs), but this effect may not be permanent. So, in short, the jury is still out on how effective lymphatic drainage massage is. 

What to expect 

A lymphatic drainage massage is a very gentle massage, explains Shaughnessy. “The lymphatic system is located underneath the first layer of skin,” she says. “It is superficial, which means that when the practitioner is working on the client, the pressure must be no more than the weight of a nickel.” Before the massage, the massage therapist will have a conversation with you about any issues you’re dealing with — be wary of any masseuse who doesn’t. 

“If you know you are relatively unhealthy, then you may feel worse before you feel better after the massage,” says Angold. “This is called a healing crisis and means that because the waste and toxins in your body have been shifted around, you may feel a little unwell directly after the treatment. This can be normal and should not put you off having another treatment. Make sure you drink plenty of water and rest, follow a healthier diet and lifestyle, and continue to have the massages.”

As always, consult your doctor with any questions before trying this procedure.

xx, The FabFitFun Team