Lymphatic massage: What is it and why it won’t make you lose weight?

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Lymphatic massage: What is it and why it won’t make you lose weight?

What is lymphatic massage?

lymphatic system

To start let’s go over what exactly lymphatic massage is. It is a light touch massage modality. It focuses on skin depth manipulation of the epidermis, in an effort to move fluid through the body. Targets include the lymphatic capillaries and the lymph nodes. It is now common to see in spas, esthetics locations, medical offices, and massage clinics. Sessions might start with deep breathing, followed by central node pumping, then peripheral node pumping, and then the skin is lightly pulled rhythmically to stimulate the lymphatic vessels. Frequently you might see it in the medical massage world or spa world.

What are the claims and misconceptions of lymphatic massage?

One of the big misconceptions I see in the lymphatic massage world is that lymphatic massage is great for weight loss, or that it can make you thinner. I hear this both from clients/patients and also I see it in advertising. It is unclear why exactly this claim is knocked around but it likely stems from the idea that this massage somehow ‘cleans you out’ and the fact that many massages actually will plump up the skin a bit due to increased circulation from the tactile input. There is also a tendency in the wellness industry to try to create a problem to fix with a treatment, and this is one of those situations. But I have to tell you, if I could truly slim you down with a rub, I would get paid a lot more. 

This is particularly challenging when clients come in having already booked a session and we have to mediate their expectations. We do have the FAQ on our website, unfortunately, many people obviously book based on their personal understanding, which may be flawed to unethical advertising, and previous providers selling them needed unethical treatment. One of our missions is to help dispel myths with education both for therapists and for patients so we frequently publish content related to education.

What does the research say about it? 

So if it does not thin you down, what does lymphatic massage it do? Well, there is quite a lot of debate not that and the research is rather opaque. Check out this kindly-worded 2009 study that says ‘Manual lymphatic drainage techniques remain a clinical art founded upon hypotheses, theory, and preliminary evidence.’ Or this meta-analysis from 2020 that did not find that lymphatic massage significantly reduced swelling of breast cancer patients. 

One could begin to think that lymphatic massage was never indicated, but before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, lets look at some of the clinical reasons lymphatic massage can be useful to someone who is compromised in some way.

So what does this massage do?

  • Touch seems to be an important part of the human experience. Many people who have some sort of lymphatic compromise, cannot have more traditional kinds of touch. Lymphatic massage provides a safe structure for that. 
  • Stimulating the surface of the skin does cause some blood flow modification, bringing blood closer to the surface, which in turn might have an effect on lymphatics but not necessarily swelling. In general, the body seems to like these kinds of dermal changes and they make us feel good. 
  • Lymphatic massage is often performed post-surgically to help modulate pain when deeper touch cannot be performed. 
  • Lymphatic massage is often performed along side exercise rather than replacing it. In essence feeling better can help you feel better about moving. 
  • Lymphatic massage can put you into a state of rest and digest. 
  • We are treating humans not statistics. 

Who seeks out this kind of massage?

massage on the side of head

Generally, the people seeking out this massage want to feel better. It is not typically a treatment, such as a deep tissue that is about the ‘feeling’ so it is extra important therapists and practitioners are ethical in their marketing and claims. The patient population we see at Body Mechanics is generally post-surgical, post-mastectomy, or has an underlying health condition such as: chronic pain, Lyme disease, M.S, cancer, or lymphedema. We also occasionally see people for general health reasons, but the reason they seek lymphatic massage is in essence, to feel better. 

If you are looking for a lymphatic massage, choose a practitioner who is marketing ethically, who is well trained, and you trust. Your dollar has power. If you love lymphatic massage, there is no reason to stop if you have found out it does not do what you think it does. Enjoying something is a valid form of self-care. If you have questions about lymphatic massage we are happy to answer. You can reach us at

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