What Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage (and How Can I Do It at Home)?

woman massaging her shoulder

When it comes to massages, we’re familiar with the usuals—Swedish, aromatherapy, deep tissue, etc. But what about lymphatic drainage massage? Here’s what you need to know about this holistic treatment (including tips on how to do it yourself).

First of all, what is it? Lymphatic drainage massage (LDM) is a technique meant to stimulate the flow of lymph, a fluid that transports white blood cells, oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues. LDM uses a light amount of pressure and circular movements to stimulate lymph flow. The treatment was pioneered by Danish doctors Emil and Estrid Vodder in the 1930s as a treatment for chronic sinusitis and other immune disorders.

And does it really work? The lymph system is a central part of the immune system, so proponents of lymphatic drainage believe that this technique can help treat a variety of health concerns. It’s also often prescribed as a treatment for lymphedema, a condition that can cause fluids to build up in your lymph system and your lymph nodes. In terms of research, there haven’t been a ton of studies done, although some—like this one from the University of Northern Iowa—suggest that MLD can be an effective way of managing edema, or swelling, in patients with orthopedic injury. Another study conducted at the University of Sao Paolo found that LDM shows promise in the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Can you do it yourself? You can. Many physical therapists and licensed massage therapists (LMT) are trained to perform lymphatic drainage massage, but if you’re interested in taking a more DIY route, there are tons of easy-to-follow tutorials available on YouTube (like this one from LMT Heather Wibbels). Because it involves very light pressure applied to areas you can reach yourself (like your underarms and elbows), it’s actually pretty easy to do on your own.

A massage you can try without booking a pricey spa session? Don’t mind if we do.

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sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...