If you have a medical condition or have had surgery that has caused lymphedema, or tissue swelling, you may want to talk to your doctor about seeking a lymphatic drainage massage. The lymphatic system that is functioning optimally will remove excess fluid from bodily tissue and produce immune cells. However, unlike other systems in the body, the lymphatic system doesn't have a pump to push lymph through its vessels and nodes, so it requires the natural movements of smooth muscle tissue. But if an individual isn't feeling well and is sedentary, then lymph can become stagnant.
Lymphatic drainage massages can improve lymph flow, reduce swelling, improve circulation, and boost the immune system. While lymphatic drainage massages can be performed manually by a therapist, some therapists may opt to use different modalities. Here are three unique massage therapies to try for lymphatic drainage.
Gua sha, or jade rolling, is a massage technique derived from traditional Chinese medicine. During this massage, your therapist will use a metal or plastic instrument to scrape areas of the body with lots of lymph nodes—such as inside the elbows, around the arms, and under the collarbone. Manual lymphatic drainage massage is usually very gentle and light to the touch, but if you'd like a deeper massage or to break down scar tissue, then gua sha may be beneficial. One study found that gua sha could be beneficial for improving chronic pain and range of motion.
During a dry brushing treatment, your massage therapist will use a stiff-bristled brush and apply strokes to certain areas of the body to improve lymph flow. The massage therapist will brush in the direction of venous and lymphatic flow. There aren't a lot of studies to confirm the benefits of dry brushing, but some people may find that it helps to improve their digestion. Some people may find that it improves the appearance of their skin due to the exfoliation process; for instance, dry brushing may be used to improve cellulite and keratosis pilaris. Dry brushing can be used on its own or in conjunction with manual lymphatic drainage.
Ultrasound-Aided Lymphatic Drainage
During this type of massage, a therapist will glide an ultrasound device across your skin. Ultrasound devices use low-power sound waves to warm muscle tissue and reduce stagnant lymph fluid. If you've recently had surgery, and you get permission from your doctor, ultrasound-aided lymphatic drainage could help reduce swelling and alleviate pain during healing. People with conditions like tendonitis, bursitis, or joint tightness/contracture may benefit from this type of lymphatic drainage massage since it can disrupt scar tissue formation.
Ultimately, before you try any of these lymphatic drainage massages, you should ask your doctor to see if you'd be a good fit for your needs. These lymphatic drainage modalities are great for many patients, but they may not be good for some people, like those with a high risk of blood clots.
Reach out to a massage therapist in your area today to learn more about lymphatic massages.