What is a lymphatic drainage massage and its benefits?

Lymphatic drainage face massage with wooden massager.
Lymphatic drainage massages can be done on the face and body. (Getty Images)

You may have heard of the term ‘lymphatic drainage massage’ all over social media, but many people are still confused about what the treatment is and how it is beneficial.

The massage is said to be a favourite of celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Aniston. Even the Duchess of Sussex has previously praised a type of facial massage that encourages lymph drainage for giving her a more sculpted face.

People who undergo the massage for aesthetic reasons often swear by it to enhance and sculpt their body and face. However, experts say that lymphatic drainage has many more benefits that are beyond skin-deep, including improvement in gut health and aiding fitness recovery.

What is a lymphatic drainage massage?

The lymphatic system is a crucial network of tubes and glands that runs throughout the body, filtering and managing fluid levels in the body and helping the body fight off infection.

Sometimes, this system can stop working properly, which can lead to lymphoedema, a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs, according to the NHS.

In these cases, lymphatic drainage can be very helpful. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a specific type of massage that can be used to treat lymphoedema, a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues.

MLD must be carried out by a qualified practitioner, or patients with lymphoedema may be taught a simple form of massage they can perform on themselves everyday to help reduce the swelling.

Anti-cellulite maderotherapy massage of female leg calves in a wellness center.
Therapists may use tools to perform the lymphatic drainage massage. (Getty Images)

The massage is also often performed by aestheticians, in a more wellness-focused manner.

The role of the lymphatic system in gut health

Daemon Dewing, leading plastic surgery consultant from Fine Form Aesthetics, emphasises the importance of looking after our lymphatic system - especially with gut health being a priority for many people.

“The gut has a rich lymphatic system that is key to immune health and the processing of cellular metabolisms by-products. This complex web of channels connects all through the entire body but is concentrated in key areas including the groin, gut, armpit region and neck,” he explains.

“When tumours spread from a given site they can frequently travel in predictable sequences via lymphatic basins where there are concentrations of lymphatic glands - key regulatory points in the lymphatic web essentially.

“At rest, your body is busily self-regulating. Cells need energy for cell function whether a muscle cell, an organ cell or a brain cell. As they consume energy there are cellular by-products which must be expelled.

“This is where the lymphatic system comes in. A superfine delicate web of channels that assist the expulsion of waste products into the veins and ultimately expel these various products by several means including via the lungs as CO2 and water and via the kidneys.”

Benefits of lymphatic drainage massage

According to Dewing, some benefits of the massage can include:

Gut health

“A part of the lymphatic system is the ‘lacteal’ which is crucial to ensure the fats we consume are correctly transported. Unlike other nutrients, fat is not water-soluble, leading to blood vessels and other sensitive areas of the gut clogging up,” he says.

“A sluggish lymphatic system means that unhealthy fats can clog up our digestive system, leading to gut problems. Having regular lymphatic drainage can support a healthy gut by supporting the clearing of the lymphatic system.”

Reduced water retention

Water retention can occur for a number of reasons, including hormonal imbalances, hot weather, chronic illness, surgery, or even standing up for too long.

“When the body swells from water retention it is usually due to the lymphatic system being overwhelmed,” Dewing says. “Lymphatic drainage can help reduce the excess water that causes the swelling to help improve circulation and help reduce discomfort.”

Reduced cellulite

Cellulite is very common, with up to 95% of women experiencing it in some form. However, it can sometimes impact confidence.

Dewing says that lymphatic drainage can help improve the appearance of cellulite by increasing blood and oxygen flow through the body’s system.

Fitness recovery

“Muscles can often feel fatigued after rigorous workouts, for those who are regularly exercising, a lymphatic massage can help for a quicker recovery.

“Lymphatic drainage massage is a great way to recover your muscles and improve blood circulation in the body. With improved circulation, the body not only recovers quicker but it can help improve stamina and performance.”

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