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BY: Leslie Olsen


In order to better understand how lymphatic massage works, let's get to know a little more about the lymphatic system. It is part of the body's immune system and we can compare it to the garbage disposal of the body. The nodes and vessels of the lymphatic system collect the fluid and the waste and returns them to the heart where it can be circulated in the blood for removal. These body parts are located just beneath the skin.

According to the National Institutes of Health

"The lymphatic system is one of the components of the circulatory system, serves a critical role in both immune function and surplus extracellular fluid drainage, and includes numerous structural components, including lymphatic capillaries, afferent lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, efferent lymphatic vessels, and various lymphoid organs."1


Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) serves as a method to increase lymph circulation, may facilitate waste removal and reduce edema (swelling), and could enhance an increase in the parasympathetic nervous system vis-a-vis a reduction in stress.


Everyone can benefit from MLD due to the fact that the sessions are relaxing and nurturing. In addition, people with lymphedema or fibromyalgia as well as cancer patients and individuals undergoing cancer treatment may find MLD beneficial. Research indicates that treatments may increase immunity, circulation, and enhance healing as well as reduce inflammation and pain.


A MLD treatment can be done almost anywhere whether standing, sitting, or on a massage table. A MLD professional uses the palms of their hands or the pads of their fingers with gentle painless strokes to impact the skin and not the muscles. It is critical to mobilize and move the fluid in one direction toward the lymph nodes and start with the main locations of drainage in the neck, groin, and armpits. With MLD the treatment starts proximal/close to the drainage areas and works distally/further away. Furthermore, the therapist should start in areas void of congestion and stay clear of places where there is swelling, cuts, bruises, and active cancer.


We can do the techniques of MLD on ourselves but use caution. Moreover, we can further enhance lymphatic movement through exercise, breath work, tapping, and dry brushing.

Lastly, if the treatment is part of cosmetic surgery recovery, then there are differences in medical recommendations as to it's efficacy and when to start MLD. The initial treatment ranges from 3 to 4 days up to 2 weeks and also depends on which surgery. Consequently, each situation would warrant the input, guidance, and instructions of the medical practitioner who performed the procedure. Research is active and ongoing with "MLD regarding its efficacy and utility in the treatment paradigm for lymphedema and to translate concepts from the treatment of lymphedema to cosmetic procedures."2

NOTE: Contraindications may include but are not limited to metastatic cancer or inflammation associated with bacteria or a virus. If the treatment is for any type of cancer recovery make sure the professional is certified.


1. Manda Null; Tafline C. Arbor; Manuj Agarwal.

2023. Anatomy, Lymphatic System. NIH. 

2. Troy Marxen, BS, Orr Shauly, MD, Pedram Goel, MD,corresponding author Tina Tsan, CLT, Rebecca Faria, BS, and Daniel J Gould, MD, PhD. 2023

The Utility of Lymphatic Massage in Cosmetic Procedures - PMC

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