What is Lymphatic Massage?
Where Was Lymphatic Massage Developed?
Lymphatic Massage was developed in Copenhagen by Emil Vodder, PhD and his wife, Estrid Vodder, ND in the 1930’s as a treatment for chronic sinusitis. Also sometimes referred to as “Manual Lymph Drainage,” a technique specific to the Vodder Academy, Lymphatic Massage has gained in popularity in recent decades as an effective treatment for lymphedema, which is a pronounced and painful swelling that results from an impaired lymphatic drainage system, and for venous insufficiency.
Pressure and Technique in Lymphatic Massage
Lymphatic Massage is one of the lightest massages that there is. The pressure used in the massage is about the equivalent to the weight of two nickels stacked on the skin. The technique is so gentle, in fact, that it feels like very little is being done. However, it is an extremely effective technique that can produce profound and rapid results.
In order to understand how the Lymphatic Massage technique works, we need to first explain what lymph is and where it resides in our bodies. Lymph is a clear fluid that resides throughout our bodies and carries white blood cells. We have an entirely separate system from our blood circulatory system that carries lymph all around our bodies. If you’ve ever seen a map of the veins, arteries, and capillaries in the human body, the lymph circulatory system looks pretty much the same, but instead of veins, arteries, and capillaries, it is made up of similar structures called “lymphatic vessels.”
In addition to the lymphatic vessels, there are also lymph nodes. Lymph nodes help to filter out the wastes from our tissues. These wastes include bacteria and the byproducts of cellular function. When you get sick you might have noticed swelling around your neck, under your arm, or in your groin area where your legs meet your torso. These areas have high concentrations of lymph nodes.
In some people, there is a problem with the lymphatic system. Due to any number of factors such as genetics, cancer treatments, or parasitic infections, the lymphatic system may become clogged and fluid backs up in an extremity such as the hands/arms or legs/feet. The backup of fluid causes swelling (edema). When swelling is caused by excessive lymph, it is referred to as “lymphedema.”
Unlike our circulatory system that has a pump (the heart) to move blood through the blood vessels, lymph is moved by the actions of the body. Those actions include the use of muscle, breathing, the rhythm of the pulse in neighboring blood vessels, stretching, etc. In short, it takes very little pressure to get lymph to move.
One of the ways that lymph is moved through the system is by the gentle movement of the skin against muscle. Lymph sits between those two tissues, so by making very gentle movements of the skin over the muscle, lymph can be encouraged to flow. So, even though it feels like very little is being done in a lymph massage, the effects are tremendous on the body.
Why Lymphatic Massage Works
Much of this was explained in the previous paragraphs, but essentially what lymph massage does is that it unclogs stagnant areas and “pumps” lymph back into the circulatory system (heart, blood vessels, etc.) where it begins its path again. Lymphatic Massage is almost like a form of CPR for the lymphatic system.
What Conditions Can be Treated with Lymphatic Massage?
- Breast cancer patients post-mastectomy / lymph node removal (see also Breast Health Massage)
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency (clearance from medical professional for Deep Vein Thrombosis is required)
- Post surgical healing (minimum 6 weeks after surgery) (see also Scar Tissue Massage)
- Puffiness of the face
- Sinus congestion from hay fever (people with colds should not get a massage for clogged sinuses)
Who Should Not Get Lymphatic Massage?
Lymphatic Massage is generally safe for most healthy people. However, people who have Congestive Heart Failure, kidney disease MUST get *written* medical clearance before getting a Lymphatic Massage. This is because Lymphatic Massage causes a very fast influx of fluid directly into the heart and then puts a significant amount of strain on the kidneys. While all massage causes some drainage, this form of massage could cause life threatening conditions for people with Congestive Heart Failure or advanced renal disease.
Anyone who has an active infection, whether it be a cold, the flu, or an infected wound should not get a massage. Not only are colds and flu contagious, but infections can be made worse and/or spread throughout the body through a massage. This is especially true with Lymphatic Massage because the system that filters out pathogens in our bodies is what is being worked on.
Persons with lymphedema who have an sudden increase in swelling or sudden onset of pain should be first evaluated by a physician before getting a Lymphatic Massage. People who have Chronic Venous Insufficiency can benefit greatly from Lymphatic Massage; however, if the Venous Insufficiency is caused by Deep Vein Thrombosis, written medical clearance is required as massage could worsen this condition and dislodge clots which could be fatal. Most cases of Chronic Venous Insufficiency are not related to Deep Vein Thrombosis, rather by gender (female), age (over 50), smoking, pregnancy and inactivity.
People who have tumors or lumps that have not been examined should avoid Lymphatic Massage until cleared by a physician. Cancer can be transported through the lymph system, so it is important to be sure that any type of lump or tumor is properly diagnosed as non-cancerous before getting Lymphatic Massage.
How Lymphatic Massage is Performed
Lymphatic Massage is typically done on a table with sheets. The person receiving the massage is typically unclothed, (although some people may leave on their underwear), and a sheet and blanket are used to cover the body. The massage therapist will uncover each section of the body (for example, leg, back, arm) in order to work on it and then cover it again before moving onto the next area.
Lymphatic Massage often begins on the chest where the lymphatic system empties into the heart, so expect your massage therapist to be working in this area in addition to areas of concern. The therapist will use very gentle pressure in small circles and strokes in a very specific and meticulous manner to coax the lymph to flow in the appropriate direction.
It is not uncommon for people to need to use the restroom immediately after this form of massage as the results are quite immediate which means a full bladder is unavoidable. Sometimes it is necessary to go to the restroom during the massage. Just let your therapist know. Do not make yourself uncomfortable by trying to hold it. This is a totally normal (and expected) response to the therapy.