The lymphatic system
To fully understand what a lymphatic drainage massage is, we must get acquainted with the lymphatic system itself first. This system is part of the immune system. It consists of nodes spread all over the body that are connected by vessels. The fluid flows through the vessels, whereas the nodes function as filters.
The lymphatic system protects us from infections, as it contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. It moves fluid from bodily tissues into the blood. Lastly, it helps get rid of waste produced by the cells. The fluid and waste are later discarded via the blood circulation through the liver and kidneys. They then exit the body through bowel movements and urine.
The entire system lies just under the skin, so when performing a drainage massage, there's no need to apply much pressure.
The basics of lymphatic drainage massage
A lymphatic drainage massage is usually part of an entire Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) plan. It consists of massage, applying pressure, exercise, and skincare (if there's damage to the skin). Compression socks are used to direct lymphatic fluid away from the legs.
The primary beneficiaries of lymphatic drainage are people suffering from lymphedema. This is a swelling that develops due to a failure of the lymphatic system. It usually occurs after surgery involving the lymph nodes, severe infections, or radiation therapy.
Every drainage massage session lasts between 15 and 60 minutes. The effects are immediate. Applying minimal pressure, your physical therapist may use just one type of motion or a combination of sweeping and circular motions. These motions help collect and redirect accumulated lymphatic fluid and promote its re-absorption by the body. Every movement is designed to stretch the skin in the direction of lymphatic flow.
As lymphedema isn't curable yet, is it recommended to keep your legs and arms above your heart and avoid sitting cross-legged if you suffer from this condition. Avoid applying ice or heat and resist wearing tight garments.
Lymphatic drainage massage isn't reserved only for those who suffer from lymphedema. It could also alleviate symptoms of the following conditions:
- progressive rheumatoid arthritis
- chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)
- digestive problems
- migraine attacks
- swelling (aka edema)
- skin disorders
- stress and depression
There are virtually zero risks in having a lymphatic drainage massage. However, certain individuals should avoid it. These include people who:
- have an infection
- experienced blood clots or a stroke
- have congestive heart failure
- have cancer in the affected area
- have liver or kidney problems.