A Draining Experience

Lymphatic drainage massage, as seen here, targets the lymphatic system as well as organs such as the spleen and appendix.

For most of us, any kind of procedure with the word “drainage” in it most likely sounds invasive and somewhat messy. But in the case of lymphatic drainage massage, nothing could be further from the truth.

This type of massage is designed to target your lymphatic system — the body’s network of lymph nodes — as well as vessels and organs such as your spleen and appendix. This network is part of the immune system and helps maintain fluid levels in your body, eliminate waste, absorb fats from the digestive tract and protect your body from infection.

Lymphatic drainage massage has typically been used to alleviate lymphedema, a buildup of fluids in the lymphatic system that can occur after surgery or due to a medical condition. But the procedure has also become popular as a beauty and wellness service, with celebrities touting its potential health benefits.

The basic idea is to move fluid around in the body with targeted massage techniques. This is done using very light pressure, since the lymphatic system lives just under the body’s skin, and typically starts with the central part of the body and gradually moves out to the extremities.

“It’s like a brushing effect takes place over long bones of the body, such as the arms and the legs,” said Paul Youngquist, a licensed massage therapist and owner of Wellness Works in Peterborough. “And then the joints are articulated and compressed with the use of maybe a hand in place, such as behind the knee.”

Youngquist has offered the service since opening his business, which also provides holistic spa treatments and nutritional counseling, in 2005. He said it can be particularly impactful for people undergoing treatment for or recovering from cancer by helping to flush out toxins while the body is in a state of healing and repair.

He also believes it can have benefits for the average person simply by helping the lymphatic system move better overall. However, there’s not much research on the impacts of lymphatic drainage for healthy people who aren’t trying to treat lymphedema or another condition.

One study from 2010 in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology did find that mechanical massage and manual lymphatic drainage techniques seemed to reduce the appearance of cellulite in the study participants. And another study, published in the journal Manual Therapy in 2015, found that manual lymphatic drainage was more effective at improving fibromyalgia symptoms than traditional tissue massage.

Youngquist stressed that if you’re experiencing health symptoms that could point to an issue with your lymphatic system — such as swelling, aching or changes in the texture and thickness of your skin — it’s important to get advice from a trained medical professional.

“Usually if somebody has a problem with their lymphatic system, they have something going on in their body that is awry that really needs to have further evaluation and figure out what’s going on if they don’t already know about it,” Youngquist said. “It’s not just something that you brush over lightly and just get a lymphatic massage and think that that’s going to solve your issues.”

He added there are also numerous ways to take care of your lymphatic system, such as a technique called dry brushing, which helps stimulate lymph flow by brushing dried cactus bristles over the body toward the heart. This can be especially impactful if done right before a shower, he said.

Some other natural strategies for supporting your lymphatic system include adding squeezed citrus juice and essential oils — typically lemon or grapefruit — into your drinking water, or even combining that mixture with apple cider vinegar. Youngquist also suggests placing castor oil packs on your body where your liver is located.

If you do decide to sign up for a lymphatic drainage massage, Youngquist says it’s a good idea to plan an hour or two of downtime for yourself afterward, as some people experience a “detox reaction” following the procedure.

“It’s a great therapy for wellness in general,” he said. “Anything that’s going to help the lymphatic system move a little bit better overall can help you feel better.”

For more information, visit wellnessworksllc.com.