While you may not be familiar with lymphatic massage, you have probably read about one of the most popular ways it’s done: with a gua sha tool. This, and other forms of lymphatic drainage massage, are getting a lot of play these days -- and for good reason! These specialized drainage massages focus on the lymphatic system, a part of the immune system responsible for removing waste and toxins from tissues in the body. Since it serves an important role in overall health, it’s important to keep it moving. A targeted drainage massage can help keep the lymphatic system operating as it should. Let’s do a deep dive and then explore different lymphatic massages you can do at home to get your own lymphatic system flowing.
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The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, nodes and ducts that pass through almost all bodily tissues. Its main function is to speed up the process of removing certain toxins and waste from the body. It does this by draining excess fluid that builds up in tissue, filtering out foreign bodies and transporting the fluid back into the bloodstream. As fluid moves through lymphatic vessels, it passes through lymph nodes that contain high concentrations of lymphocytes (types of white blood cells), which attack pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi.
The system allows the circulation of a fluid called lymph through the body in a similar way to blood. It plays a key role in fighting disease and in overall health. An excess in fluid buildup can lead to issues that can make us feel uncomfortable, run down and even sick. The lymph system also helps absorb dietary fat and fat-soluble vitamins. With so many functions, it’s clear that a functioning lymphatic system is important to our overall health!
As mentioned, lymphatic fluid passes through the body like blood. However, unlike blood, which is circulated through the body with the help of a pump (the heart), the lymphatic system has no “pump.” It relies on pressure, muscle contractions, and one-way valves to squeeze fluid through a network of vessels. As mindbodygreen explains, "muscle contraction [plus] diet, exercise and physical manipulation are all required for the system to function normally.” That's where lymphatic massage comes in.
Since the body often needs a little help to get the system moving, massage is a gentle way to alleviate some of the uncomfortable buildup and even dangerous issues that are associated with a slow or malfunctioning lymphatic system. Stagnant lymph flow leads to waste and toxin buildup, weakening immunity and leading to a wide variety of health issues including fluid retention, respiratory issues, sinus infections, swollen glands, eczema and colds.
To find out more, follow along as we explore simple techniques known to help stimulate the lymph system, which can be performed at home with a few simple tools.
Because a slow lymph system can cause fluid retention, a telltale sign that there is an issue is puffiness in the face. Whether it’s fuller cheeks or undereye bags, the extra fluid can affect the way you look and feel. Giving yourself a gentle massage at home is a relaxing way to address the symptoms and may provide benefits beyond just reducing swelling in the face. “A stagnant lymphatic system can cause acne, breakouts, even full dry skin," celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas says. “As the lymphatic system accumulates more and more waste, it can result in inflammation (and all acne stems from inflammation of some kind). So by flushing out that waste and encouraging flow, you can keep the skin from becoming congested.” With these potential benefits in mind, let’s get started:
Apply 3-4 drops of facial oil to add slip to the area. This will prevent the fingers from tugging. Two oils that work well for this type of massage are the Facial Recovery Oil and the Camellia Glow Solid Face Oil. If you choose to use a gua sha tool for lymphatic drainage, follow the instructions here or here.
Begin by placing two fingers (pointer and middle) about an inch out from the center of your neck and apply gentle pressure. Lift the chin to help with the draining. Draw 5-10 tiny circles in the area with fingers moving forward. Next, move the fingers up towards the top of the jaw where it meets the ear and repeat 5-10 tiny circles or downward strokes in that little nook. Then move the two fingers on each side down to the top of the collarbones and repeat small circles. These are the areas where the lymph fluid flows, so stimulating them will help the drainage.
Bring your two fingers to the top of the cheeks and repeat 5-10 circles. Move up to the cheekbones (under the eyes) and repeat 5-10 circles. Next, go just underneath the eyebrows, 5-10 circles. Finally, place three fingers (pointer, middle and ring) vertically on each side of the middle of the forehead and gently complete small circles every inch across the forehead until you reach your temples.
The most important last step is to swipe your fingers down towards your neck and collarbones 5-10 times to get the fluid to flow down to where it can be drained, as lymph fluid empties into the bloodstream via the subclavian veins at the base of the neck.
When you’re done, leave the oil on for maximum benefits and drink plenty of fluids! Well-hydrated tissue helps move out waste.
Much like the face, the body can show signs of a sluggish lymphatic system through water retention, puffiness and even worsened cellulite. Different types of massages can help get the system going. One of the main techniques uses light rhythmic movements to stimulate the lymphatic system without pressing on any vessels. This movement allows lymph fluid to flow through nodes and tissues beneath the skin surface. It prevents fluid retention by gently stretching the skin in the direction of lymph flow.
While this type of massage is best left to a professional, dry brushing is a simple, quick and effective way to perform a type of lymphatic massage at home.
Dry brushing is another body care technique that gets the lymphatic system flowing. Derived from Ayurvedic medicine, this technique has been around for centuries. It is a natural detoxification practice that gently flushes out toxins without disturbing the body’s balance and can help you feel energetic and revitalized. Most dry brushes are made of a wood base with natural fiber bristles. They can have long handles or just a strap that wraps over the hand for easy gripping. The bristles are generally quite firm but because you’ll only be applying gentle pressure, they shouldn’t feel rough against your skin. However, they will perform a gentle skin exfoliation, which is a nice bonus.
For best lymphatic drainage results, dry brushing should be done on bare skin. Also, consider dry brushing in the shower (without any water running) to effortlessly eliminate sloughed-off dead skin down the drain.
As the name suggests, dry brushing is done dry – meaning a dry brush (without any oil or lotion) placed directly on clean, dry skin.
Open up the neck area first. It helps to stimulate the sympathetic area of your lymphatic system – moving the fluids that run naturally through your body. When dry brushing, use wide, circular, clockwise motions. Always move towards the heart. Strokes at the neck will move down the body. Do 10 strokes on the right side and then repeat on the left. Remember, the goal is to gently stimulate the lymphatic pathways right under the skin.
There are lymph nodes in the armpits, so that is an area that shouldn’t be missed. Begin by brushing under the arm and down the back of it (from armpit to elbow), again moving across the chest towards the heart. Complete about 10 light strokes in each area.
Next up, your hands and lower your arms. Start at the ends of the fingers and lightly brush up the arm towards the heart. Repeat 10 times on each surface of the arm, including the inside of the wrist up to the elbow.
Lightly brush the abdomen area. Draw circles both clockwise and counter-clockwise around the belly button and then brush from the lower stomach up towards the chest in light, vertical strokes.
Now on to legs. If possible, place the leg you’re working on up on a bench or stool so that you can easily reach down without hunching over. Start with the top of the foot and gently brush 10 strokes up. Follow this with 10 strokes on the calf, both front and back, spending extra time right behind the knee, to stimulate those lymph nodes. Also brush around the knee cap where fluid can get stuck. Repeat on the other leg. And then do the same for the thigh area and the buttocks.
When you’re done, your skin will be smooth and exfoliated, but may feel slightly dry. The best way to end the dry brushing session is with a quick shower (bonus points if you can tolerate 30 seconds of cold water at the end, as the shock of cold causes your lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body). After the shower, dry off and apply Stone Crop Contouring Body Cream to help hydrate the skin post dry brushing session.
Now that you know the benefits of lymphatic drainage, try some of these techniques at home or visit your nearest Eminence Spa for a professional treatment!