What is a lymphatic massage? Here's everything you need to know about this toxins-reducing treatment
From Gua Sha to foam rollers and everything in between.
When things get stressful—and to prevent situations from feeling stressful—unwinding with a massage can help. As much as we love deep tissue and Swedish massages, today we’re here to chat about the kneading technique taking the wellness world by storm: a lymphatic massage.
Lymphatic massages employ manual manipulation to squeeze out the lymphs in an effort to drain them. “There are many benefits of lymphatic massage, including reduced swelling and fluid as well as boosting the circulation of lymphatic fluid,” says Dr. Lesley Rabach, a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and co-founder of LM Medical NYC.
According to Rabach, it’s important to drain the body of lymphatic fluid since that’s the transporter of waste and toxins from the body. While lymphatic massage is especially important for people who suffer from lymphedema (aka lymph swelling) and those who have had surgery, it can prove beneficial for everyone, thanks to its channel-clearing technique that helps make way for fewer toxins in the body.
Because of this, lymphatic massages have become a must-try self-care treatment for those in hope of peak wellness. Whether you’re hoping to clear out swelling in your face or in your body, there’s a lymphatic massage for that. To learn more about what those massages are, how to prepare for them, how often to get them, and where to seek them, keep reading below.
The best lymphatic massages for your body
Gua Sha Massages: First there were jade rollers, then there was gua sha—at least in terms of present-day popularity. In reality, gua sha has been around for centuries in China and in other Asian countries, making them anything but a fad. “Gua sha, which originates from traditional Chinese medicine, is a massage technique that can be performed on the face and body,” says Aceology founder Joanne Zhong. “When using a tool, such as Aceology’s Rose Quartz Gua Sha Facial Massager, and firmly gliding it over the skin in the direction that our lymphatic fluid flows (under the eyes, out towards the hairline, under the jawline, and out towards the sides of our neck), it improves lymphatic drainage, which aids in detoxification, eases muscle tension, and can even help relieve sinus pressure.”
If you’re skeptical about whether or not you should add gua sha into your routine, Zhong reminds us that it’s beneficial for all skin types. “It will be especially useful to those with congested skin, sinus-related issues, and those who are stressed and experience temple and/or jawline tension,” she adds.
To make the most of your gua sha lymphatic massage moment, Zhong says to start with clean, hydrated, prepped skin. “Warm the gua sha tool slightly by rubbing it between your hands with the active [ingredient] you will be using, [whether that’s] an oil, serum, or mask,” she instructs. “The gua sha should always slide and never pull the skin.”
Expert Tip: For added redness reduction, Zhong says to store your gua sha in the refrigerator or in a bowl of icy water. Doing this will add a chill to your skin care routine that can help decrease puffiness and inflammation, especially under the eyes.
Foam Roller Massages: If you’re a fitness fanatic, there’s a good chance that foam rollers are already part of your routine. But do you know what they actually do? According to Zhong, the lymphatic massage technique lends to speedy muscle recovery. “By rolling back and forth over a foam roller, contracted muscles become relaxed, allowing for new, nutrient-rich blood to flow to the area and lactic acid buildup to be cleared,” she explains. “This aids in faster recovery time, allowing for improved workouts with a better range of motion, as well as a decreased risk of injury.”
Since the rewards are pretty life-changing, you’ll be glad to know that you can foam-roll both pre- and post-workout: It helps prevent muscle injuries as much as it helps rehab them. Just be sure to roll out each target muscle group for at least a few minutes (or 10 to 20 rolls) to receive the most benefits.
Dry Brush Massages: You’ve likely heard of dry brushes as a magical, model-approved means to lessen cellulite and get smoother skin. While it might seem unlikely that a little semi-soft-bristled brush could do all that, Rabach says that it’s possible—though the brushes are best for exfoliating and, secondarily, to help boost circulation, which can effectively diminish the appearance of swelling and cellulite by reducing lymphatic build-up. “While somewhat effective, they are not as good as traditional lymphatic massage,” she adds.
Since it’s possible to experience positive benefits from dry-brushing, Zhong shares how to do it effectively. “Take a dry brush with firm bristles and brush towards the heart (from the feet, up the legs, and from the palms of our hands, up the arms),” she instructs. “Doing so aids in exfoliation, cell renewal, blood circulation, and lymphatic drainage.” Best of all, since it’s an easy at-home method, it can be performed daily and is typically best to perform prior to showering.
Infrared Lymphatic Massages: If you’re willing to head out of your home for your lymphatic massage experience, consider an infrared body roll massage. The lymphatic drainage massage machines at Body Roll Studio in New York City—which feature rotating, acupressure-inspired, distinctively shaped wooden rolls—are beneficial for everyone. And, after just one use, they’re likely something you’ll wish you had in your own home.
“Whether you are big into fitness or not, the machines are a wonderful tool for helping to maintain a healthy body,” says Body Roll founder Piret Aava, noting that the machines are primarily used for rolling out fascia and helping to reduce muscle tension and fatigue. “The machines are heated, which allows the body to relax and the roller to target deep muscle and tissue. [This] is helpful [to do] before or after a workout,” Aava says. “Pre-workout, it helps to get your body feeling limber, which can improve your overall performance. [As for post-workout], it sends blood and oxygen back to your depleted muscles and aids in their recovery.”
Ice Globe Massages: Massages are often thought of as warm, muscle-melting therapies, but Zhong shares that an ice globe massage—which is inspired by cryotherapy—uses icy temps to deliver just-as-beneficial lymphatic drainage effects. “The Aceology Ice Globes are easy-to-use cold facial massage tools that help boost circulation (which includes the lymphatic system), improving the all-important flow of fluid,” she says. “Ice globes assist to heal and renew skin with multiple soothing effects and are used in a lymphatic drainage massage to speed up the removal of toxins and waste in the blood.” And let’s not forget that, thanks to the icy temps, ice globe massages help reduce redness, swelling, and puffiness as well. “In a face massage, Ice Globes can brighten the complexion, soften lines and wrinkles by tightening the skin, and relieve sinus pressure, puffy eyes, headaches, and migraines.”
Fortunately, ice globe massages are super simple to perform on your own. Simply place your globes in the fridge so that they’re nice and chilly when you’re ready to use them. Use the ice globes by applying the same rolling motion you would for a lymphatic massage, moving from the cheeks up towards the forehead for 10 to 20 minutes. “You can work with one globe at a time and swap and replace it in the ice bowl, or use both at the same time,” Zhong says.
Classic Lymphatic Drainage Massages: According to Rabach, the absolute best and most effective form of lymphatic massage is an actual lymphatic massage. “This is because the hands can physically push the lymph back into the lymphatic channels, thereby removing the swelling,” she explains.
How to prepare for a lymphatic massage?
Like all massages, it’s important to adequately hydrate before and after a lymphatic massage. “Between the releasing of toxins and the increase in circulation, it is important that you keep your body hydrated,” Aava explains. “Also, the more you drink, the more toxins you will be able to get rid of—so drink, drink, drink.”
How often should you get a lymphatic drainage massage?
The beauty of lymphatic massages is that you don’t have to set aside loads of time and money to work them into your routine—at least not for all of the techniques. Instead, you can book a professional lymphatic massage treatment once a month or so (or more frequently if your budget and schedule permit) and supplement your lymphatic health care with at-home gua sha, foam rolling, and ice globe massages. “As with most things, the more you incorporate [lymphatic] massage into your routine, the faster and more likely you are to see and feel results,” Aava says.
Where to book lymphatic massages?
When looking outside of your own home for a lymphatic massage, be sure to only book through licensed professionals, especially those qualified in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).