What Is A Lymphatic Drainage Massage—And Does It Really Improve Your Health? Experts Weigh In
Why the obsession? Let’s start with a bio lesson (it’s a quickie, promise). The lymphatic network—a network of vessels and organs—lies under your skin. It’s a crucial part of the immune system and works kind of like a garbage disposal (totally not gross!). “It acts like a sanitation system for our body by getting rid of ‘waste’ that our body naturally produces, or other things that can invade our body, like bacteria,” says Linda Koehler, PhD, an assistant professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Minnesota. “It’s what protects us from getting an infection.”
The thinking is that if you’re puffy, sick, achy, exhausted—you get the gist—unclogging the pipes via a fancy rubdown may help. But it’s tough to know what’s for real and what’s pure fiction when it comes to the remedy—and whether you actually need to do anything (like get a special massage) to keep the system clean. Clarity, right this way:
How do lymphatic drainage massages work?
Therapies marketed for this purpose are usually gentle and use specific techniques to move fluid around the body more effectively. “It is not like a regular massage, which has a deep pressure that massages the muscles,” Koehler notes. “The massage has a very light pressure because the lymphatic system is close to the surface of the skin.”
There’s a specific sequence to lymphatic massage, she adds. In general, the massage is performed proximal to distal (starting in the central part of the body, then moving towards the extremities). “You would first start by massaging the regional lymph nodes—the lymph nodes that drain a specific area—to ’empty’ the nodes to get them ready to take on more fluid,” she explains. “It’s like ’emptying’ a glass before you fill it again. You would then start massaging the area that drains towards those lymph nodes that are ready to take on more fluid.” Sounds relaxing.
It’s so easy to count it out, but recovery is an important step of any training program. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the gym or getting ready to run your next marathon. Any kind of exercise puts your body through wear and tear, so you want to give your muscles and tendons the opportunity to properly repair. This is why many active people opt for a form of massage therapy called a sports massage. But what is a sports massage, exactly?
It’s not like the one you’d typically receive at the spa. Instead, a sports massage is a treatment aimed at preventing injuries and keeping you in tip-top shape. Here, you’ll find a list of the top benefits of sports massage, plus pro tips to know before you book your first appointment.
The first thing to know is that you can get one any time, but they can can be especially beneficial before or after a big race or athletic event. While techniques used in a sports massage may sometimes seem similar to those used during a deep-tissue massage, the two have different end goals, says Beret Kirkeby, LMT and owner of Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage.
“For comparison sake, if you were offered a sports massage vs. a deep-tissue, the sports massage would probably take your [physical] activities into account and try to tailor the treatment to fit both the time and kind of activity, whereas a deep-tissue massage would be more about pressure and general lifestyle.”
Not to say you won’t feel pressure during a sports massage. While sports massages aren’t typically supposed to hurt, you may experience some tenderness and discomfort, especially if your massage therapist is working on an area that’s already injured, sore, or tight, says Kirkeby.