Lymphatic Drainage

There are many different modalities of bodywork, each aimed at achieving a different goal. In Western culture, most massage therapy clients seek relaxation or pain management. Supply meets demand, and most Western massage therapists offer the Swedish or deep tissue modalities of massage. These types of massage are very good at accomplishing the goal of relaxation or pain relief. However, as I have discussed many times in this blog, massage therapy can help with many body ailments, and affects every system of the body.

Lymphatic drainage is the most beneficial bodywork modality for your lymphatic system. Please read my blog post on the lymphatic system to discover the importance of this body system.





Image by Chambers Clinic


Lymphatic (lymph) drainage is also referred to as lymphatic massage or manual lymphatic drainage. This technique was first developed in Germany as a treatment for lymphedema, which is an accumulation of lymph fluid caused by absence of or damage to the lymph nodes.

Lymph drainage is much different from Swedish or deep tissue massage. The pressure used is very light.  The goal is not to massage the muscles, but to accelerate lymph flow. These light strokes are always directed toward the heart. The goal is to ease the flow of lymph fluid in this direction, so that it can be redistributed into your circulatory system.

The entire body is massaged in this manner. I personally recommend that only clients who have previous experience with bodywork try this modality as it can sometimes feel invasive. Even the stomach and sternum are massaged. Although you are appropriately covered, it can still feel a bit uncomfortable. Of course, these areas can always be skipped over if the client feels uncomfortable; however the best results come from thoroughness.



There are a few times when lymph drainage should be avoided, but these things are really contraindications for any type of bodywork.

Although lymph drainage can help treat lymphedema, it should be avoided if swelling increases suddenly or is accompanied by pain. Patients experiencing infection or congestive heart failure should also avoid lymph drainage.




lymph flow

Image by Optimum Health Clinic showing the flow of lymph fluid through the body.


In order to perform lymphatic drainage, a practitioner needs to have a focused education in the modality, in the form of continued education. Practitioners of lymph drainage are not only massage therapists, they may be physicians, physical or occupational therapists, or nurses among other professions. The Lymphatic Association of North America oversees certification of lymph drainage.

This modality may be taught to some extent in basic training of medical professionals. Personally, I had a couple of lectures dedicated to this modality while in school, but I do not specialize. However, massage therapists who have had an overview in lymph drainage can incorporate some techniques into modalities they are trained specialize in.


About Tonya Sapiel, LMT

My goal with The Wellness Seeker blog is to educate the general public on the benefits of massage therapy, why it is an important addition to their health care routine, and what they can do to help themselves in between their massage therapy sessions. I welcome feedback and questions. I also accept requests for post topics. For more information about me or my practice, please visit

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