Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic Drainage Massage


This month, let’s tackle a topic that can certainly be filed under, “so THERE’s something I never think about….but now that you mention it, that IS pretty impressive…:”

That topic?  Your lymphatic system. Here’s the scoop: your lymphatic system helps eliminate your body’s waste.  A healthy, active lymphatic system uses the natural movements of your smooth muscle tissue to accomplish this noble task. Dear lymphatic system: thanks!

Surgery (or other damage) can cause fluids to build up in your lymph system and in your lymph nodes, creating a condition known as lymphedema.

This fluid buildup is often uncomfortable, causing pain and heaviness in the affected area. Plus, it can lead to side effects such as significant depression and lack of mobility – both of which can further complicate healing. Boo. No fun.

If you’ve ever had a surgery or procedure on, involving, or affecting, your lymph nodes, your doctor may have suggested lymphatic drainage massage.  What’s that?

Lymphatic massage is a gentle-pressure technique which is used to move the waste fluids out of the damaged area. Any type of massage will activate the lymphatic system, but only very gentle pressure is required for this specific type of massage. This is because in lymphatic massage, the goal is to work the superficial skin structure –  the place where the fluid is trapped (deeper pressure is meant for working into the muscle tissue).

Manual lymphatic drainage was pioneered in the 1930s. Up until that point, the lymphatic system was still pretty poorly understood. Then, in the early part of the decade, two Danish doctors, named Drs. Emil Vodder and Estrid Vodder, were working on the French Riviera and treating patients with chronic colds, chronic sinusitis, and other immune disorders, and noticed that most of their patients seemed to have something in common. That something was swollen lymph nodes. So in 1932 the Vodders began to study the system in earnest. Ultimately, they developed a technique of light, rhythmic hand movements to promote lymph movement, and offer relief to their patients.

There are two stages to a lymphatic drainage massage: clearing and reabsorption.

The purpose of these stages, is to in essence create, through gentle pressure, a vacuum. This is to aid the affected area in bringing more fluid to it, and in turn create a flushing effect. Woooshh! This flushing encourages the body’s natural detoxifying process.

The areas involved are:

  • the supraclavicular lymph area (located directly under the collarbone)
  • the axillary lymph area (located under the arms)
  • the inside of the elbows (located…um, on the inside of your elbows)

Clearing motions can be repeated as many as ten times a day. Always massage both sides of your body and not just the side with the lymphedema.

A Guide to Clearing

There are three stages to clearing. Be sure to clear the supraclavicular area, the axillary area, and the inner-elbow area, in that order.

To clear the supraclavicular area:

  1. Begin by lying on a comfortable, flat surface.
  2. Cross your arms on your chest, with your hands resting just below the collarbones.
  3. Then simply lift your elbows slowly. The muscle action is as much pressure as is required to prepare the area to flush lymphatic fluid.

Next, clear the axillary area:

  1. Lay your hand above your head.
  2. Use your other hand to gently scoop the underarm area from top to bottom. The only pressure required is that which is gentle enough to move the surface of the skin.

Finally, clear the area inside the elbows:

  1. Lay your arm straight at your side.
  2. Use the fingers of your opposite hand to gently pull the skin inside the elbow an inch at a time.


A Guide to Reabsorption

The second part of lymphatic massage is reabsorption. To perform this stage of massage:

  1. Begin at the affected part of the body farthest from the core of the body. Begin at the tips of the fingers if you have lymphedema in your hand, arm, and shoulder.
  2. Using a gentle, sweeping motion with just enough pressure to shift the surface of the skin. Massage from fingertip to hand, from hand to elbow, and from elbow to shoulder.


Take this slowly and easily, and as always, never hesitate to ask or reach out to our team as it pertains to this and all massage technique. We love our community, and we take great pride in being a resource in your active care and wellbeing!



Term of the month: Contraindication

Contraindication is (no surprise here!) the opposite of indication. In medicine, an ‘indication’ is a reason to use a certain treatment. Thus, contraindication is a condition or factor that serves as a reason to withhold a certain medical treatment, due to the harm that it would cause the patient. Likewise, in massage therapy, contraindication is an instance in which massage should not be performed at that time. Instances can range from very recent surgeries to sunburns, to name a few.


Essential Oil of the Month: Cinnamon

Is there a better season than autumn, to consider cinnamon? Just the thought of it conjures up warm and cozy feelings.  But did you know: beyond smelling divine and potentially causing you to crave baked goods (!), cinnamon is great for purifying the air and detoxifying harmful bacteria. Cinnamon also has a warming effect when applied topically, which makes it great for relaxing muscles. But take care – cinnamon is a hot oil and should be used with caution! Try adding cinnamon to your diffuser for an uplifting, yummy scent. Or, consider mixing it with a dash of orange and/or lemon, for a meditative scent.