Getting a massage is one of the few indulgent self-care practices that you can totally justify spending money on, because it also happens to be good for your health. Massage helps stretch your muscles and promotes muscle recovery after workouts, plus can be used to manage certain medical conditions. And of course, massages are hella relaxing and can make you feel rested, which we all need.
But certain types of massages claim to provide some deeper health benefits, such as lymphatic drainage massages. A lymphatic drainage massage is a massage technique that uses very gentle pressure to stimulate the lymph nodes to drain excess fluid, says Eva Carey, national massage therapist director for Zeel, an on-demand massage service. While "lymphatic drainage" is a big beauty buzzword right now, you might be wondering what a lymphatic drainage massage could do for your health?
For a quick anatomy refresher, your body's lymph system is a network of organs, nodes, ducts, and vessels that move lymph — a fluid containing white blood cells, proteins, and fats — from your tissues into the bloodstream, according to MedlinePlus. Your lymph nodes are structures that make immune cells to fight infection, and filter your lymph fluid to get rid of bacteria and cancer cells. As you can imagine, your lymph system is a super important line of defense against infections.
During a lymphatic drainage massage, a massage therapist stretches your skin in order to "allow for congestion, deposits and debris to flow from the body," Carey says. Technically, your lymph nodes are your body's biological filtration system, so they do this naturally. But the belief is that by manually applying pressure to areas around your lymph nodes, you can sort of speed up the process, or give your lymph nodes a leg up.
There are several reasons why people specifically seek out lymphatic drainage massages, including simply reducing visible "puffiness," Carey says. "Lymphatic drainage can be very helpful after long flights, and for those with sedentary jobs, and those feeling sluggish," she says. Or, if you're recovering from an injury, lymphatic massage can actually help reduce some swelling, she says.
Interestingly, studies show that lymphatic drainage massage techniques can be really helpful for individuals with breast cancer. When people with cancer get surgery, undergo radiation treatments, or experience infections, it can mess with the structure of the lymph system, according to the American Cancer Society. This makes it difficult for the lymph system to do its job, and can lead to a buildup of lymph, called lymphedema. Done properly, daily lymphatic drainage massages can help reduce the amount of lymph fluid, and provide relief for these individuals.
But some people without cancer get lymphatic massages because they believe it will "enhance their immune system," Carey says. Without solid research, it's tough to say what sort of effect lymphatic massages would have on the general population that doesn't need lymphatic drainage. But Carey says the procedure is relaxing and makes you feel "light" afterwards, much like other types of massages.
Ultimately, if a lymphatic drainage massage sounds appealing to you, go for it. Just don't expect it to cure your cold or keep you from getting sick this year.