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Home » Celebs Are Obsessed With Lymphatic Drainage Massages That Claim To Flush Out Toxins And Nix Bloat

Celebs Are Obsessed With Lymphatic Drainage Massages That Claim To Flush Out Toxins And Nix Bloat

by News Desk

Lymphatic drainage massages are luxurious spa treatments that have long been a celeb favorite for their many supposed benefits. A-listers claim they can help flush toxins, amp up immunity, and nix water weight and bloating. So is there any truth to all the rumors swirling around?

First, let’s break down what it is: “Lymphatic massage is massage that is specific for the lymphatic system,” explains Karena Wu, PT, DPT, the owner and clinical director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City and Mumbai, India. The lymphatic network—made up of vessels and organs under your skin—is a crucial part of the immune system that 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 theory is that lymphatic drainage massages can help get rid of excess fluid in the body, adds Wu. Specifically, the process is designed to target “anywhere where there’s excessive edema,” a.k.a. swelling. “It can also help with other other general systemic conditions where you really want to move fluid and eliminate waste and toxins,” she explains.

Sounds great—but does it really work? Below, experts weigh in on the benefits, those surprising before-and-after photos, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about lymphatic drainage massages.

Trevor Williams

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,” says Koehler. “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, it 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.”

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Do lymphatic drainage massages actually improve your health?

The thinking is that a “clogged” lymphatic system equals all sorts of health problems—and that can be true. Cells depend on lymphatic fluid (which, BTW, is full of disease-fighting white blood cells) to transport substances, communicate with other cells, and help them carry out their duties.

So a damaged network can screw up those processes, contributing to issues such as lymphedema, chronic swelling in a specific area of the body, says Koehler. “In the medical field, we use manual lymph drainage to help people who have had damage to their lymphatic system following surgery, trauma, or developmental disorders,” she says. “In this case, manual lymph drainage can be beneficial because there are specific techniques to assist with moving lymphatic fluid out of the damaged areas to other areas in the body that are functioning normally.”

Try adding quick cold-water rinses to your shower to boost lymphatic flow.

But how do you know if your lymphatic system is backed up in the first place? Here’s what to look for.

  • If you have an injury, especially one in your lower leg. “Injured areas do not circulate fluids well, so when you have a lot of swelling in there, you want to do a lymphatic drainage massage” as opposed to a traditional soft tissue massage, says Wu. Gravity pulling fluid down can make swelling worse for lower leg injuries, but a massage can get that fluid moving away from the area.
  • If you have an injury with major swelling. If you’ve ever injured yourself and watched a body part quickly blow up to the size of a grapefruit, that’s another sign you may need a lymphatic drainage massage to help move that fluid along, according to Wu.
  • If you have an infection. This signals strongly that your lymphatic system isn’t working properly, according to Wu.
  • If you have tight muscles. This is less common, Wu says, but tight muscles can also prevent fluid from flowing properly in your body.

    As Koehler explains, most of the time, impaired or plugged-up lymphatic vessels are the result of surgery, infection, trauma, or diseases, such as cancer or autoimmune disorders. Read: So a broken system *does* matter, but if there was a problem with yours, you’d know it.

    Now for the question of, What is a lymphatic drainage massage good for if I’m healthy? Probs nothing more than relaxation and maybe some mild tension release. Your system is likely working just fine, says Koehler, adding that there’s no evidence the average person benefits from the massages. But hey, bodywork in general just feels pretty damn relaxing—so if you dig a service with lymphatic in the description, you do you.

    Are there any weight loss benefits? Lymphatic massage before-and-after photos are wild.

    When you take a look at before-and-after pics, the slim-down effects look r.e.a.l. See for yourself in these snapshots, pulled from a few popular, celebrity-backed spas and/or therapists.

    This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

    This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

    This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

    The thing is, actual fat loss isn’t happening (at least, there’s no research to back that up!). Instead, lymphatic drainage may help reduce water retention and bloat, according to anecdotal evidence and reviews, which may have a temporary visual slimming effect (keyword: temporary). Famed massage therapist Flavia Lanini, who has worked with countless celebrities and supermodels, described to Us Weekly that a lymphatic massage can “promote a contouring effect while also promoting relaxation.” (That’s likely what you’re seeing in before-and-after pics!)

    Koehler points out, however, that bloating is a symptom that someone who has a normal functioning lymphatic system experiences. “Bloating will eventually go away on its own,” she adds—without a special rub.

    So, at most, you may experience a reduction in bloating post-lymphatic massage, but don’t expect the results to last forever, and don’t rely on a massage for weight loss.

    Can I take care of my lymphatic system any other ways (sans pricey massage)?

    Not in the market for a spa day? You can perform a lymphatic drainage massage on yourself, Wu confirms (although she adds that it’s always best done by a professional). Here’s how.

    1. Elevate the area of concern above heart level.
    2. Then, try (or have a friend try) gently massaging the area in the direction of your heart while you think about pushing the fluid that’s causing the swelling back to your heart, Wu says.
    3. Use very light pressure, and go slowly. People tend to push too hard, notes Wu.
      1. Tools can also help you apply pressure and reach those tricky areas. A plastic RockBlades is lightweight and has plenty of curved edges to help you reach any and every muscle. Tools like this one can help you cover more surface area, saving your hands and potentially pushing more fluid around, she says.

        Besides a massage, there are plenty of other ways to keep your lymphatic system in great shape. The primary drivers of lymphatic movement are activity and breathing. “Exercise will move fluid in a similar manner and has all the other additional benefits,” Koehler says. Try these other DIY tricks to help keep your system running smoothly.

        Dry Brushing Body Brush



        • Go for a gentle run. Even a 15-minute jog while focusing on deep breaths—the kind where you push your belly out as you pull air in and contract it as you exhale—does the trick. These two things help your body shift fluid around and get rid of metabolic waste without overtaxing your system, says Iris Wang, a Boston-based manual massage therapist.
        • Buy a dry brush. Dry-brushing your skin in circular motions (yes, this is a real thing, not just for influencers!) helps rev your internal flow, Wang says.
        • Hit the pool. Swimming is excellent for lymphatic movement, Koehler says. “The pressure of the water against the body provides a built-in ‘compression’ that also helps lymphatic circulation, plus there’s an increase in deep inhalations from the aerobic workout,” says Koehler.
        • Try contrast hydrotherapy. Alternating between hot and cold water improves blood movement through the arteries, says Koehler. Some experts speculate it could improve lymphatic circulation too—but there isn’t solid evidence yet. There’s no harm in trying it: Switch from one minute of hot water to 30 to 60 seconds of cold water three times at the end of a shower, says Wang.
        • Tap it out. Your skin, that is. Another of Wang’s tricks to encourage lymphatic movement is tapping the area above the collarbones with a cupped hand; this stimulates lymph capillaries below the skin, she says.

          The bottom line: You don’t *need* to get lymphatic drainage massages if you’re healthy. But if you enjoy the technique, there’s no harm in getting the service. Enjoy.

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