Lymphatic massage is a technique used to encourage lymph flow in the body. Lymph is the clear fluid produced by the lymph nodes, located in the neck, chest, underarms, groin, and abdomen. A healthy flow of lymph supports the body's immune system in fighting off toxins responsible for viruses and infection. The lymphatic system — comprised of 500 to 600 lymph nodes, in addition to the spleen, tonsils, thymus, and adenoids — is the body's filter system for dangerous toxins and disease-promoting bacteria. For this reason, the health of the lymphatic system is crucial to the body's ability to heal.
Developed in 1932 by Danish physiologist Emil Voder, the objective of lymphatic massage is the stimulation and subsequent opening of the lymphatic glands, resulting in an increased flow of lymph. The potential benefits of this type of massage — or lymph drainage — include, but are not limited to, decreased joint pain and the pain of arthritis, mood and energy enhancement, infrequent infections, and improved skin conditions. It may also alleviate migraines and menstrual cramps.
The focus of this massage is primarily on the upper body, including the face, neck and underarm regions. Typically, the touch is incredibly light, as the lymphatic vessels are located directly beneath the skin and respond to .5 to 8 ounces of pressure per square inch (about 6.5 square centimeters). This light application of pressure mimics the natural rhythm of the lymphatic system, resulting in a simple, non-invasive encouragement of lymph flow.
Lymphatic massage can be performed independently or in conjunction with deep tissue massage, depending on preference and the issues a person wishes to address. Issues of musculature, for instance, may be addressed by combining 20 to 30 minutes of deep tissue massage with 20 to 30 minutes of lymphatic massage afterward. Conversely, issues of swelling, scar tissue and inflammation may benefit most from the light touch alone.
As with all forms of massage, it is important to drink plenty of water after a session is completed. Lymphatic massage releases toxins that the consumption of water helps to flush out. Conversely, salt and alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged after a massage, as they inhibit the body's ability to flush out toxins.
While lymphatic massage is an excellent way to prevent infection, people currently suffering an acute infection should not receive lymph drainage. Similarly, people with undiagnosed tumors, clotting issues, and cardiac conditions should avoid massage, as it encourages the release and flow of potentially dangerous bacteria and toxins. For this reason, massage should be practiced only by those with a healthy immune system.