What Your Massage Therapist Wish You Knew About Lymphatic Massage

Kathleen Lisson
3 min readFeb 25, 2017

By Kathleen Lisson, CMT, CMLDT, CLT

As a Board Certified Massage Therapist with a certification in Manual Lymphatic Drainage, I specialize in reducing the tight, heavy feeling that comes with swelling after plastic surgery procedures like facelifts and tummy tucks. I am thrilled to see how aware my clients are about the importance of their body’s lymphatic system.

Because I can treat conditions like lymphedema and have taught Massage for Special Populations at a local massage college in San Diego, I get a lot of questions about the lymphatic system and lymphatic massage. Here are five things I wish massage clients knew about lymphatic massage:

Manual Lymphatic Drainage shouldn’t hurt

Proper manual lymphatic drainage, a style of massage that can reduce swelling in the body, uses a light pressure that moves the skin layer and the superficial lymph capillaries and vessels directly underneath the skin. A medium level of pressure is used to stimulate lymph nodes, but the overall massage should not be painful. Unless you have scarred, fibrotic tissue present in an advanced stage of lymphedema, lymphatic massage is not deep tissue massage. This video explains Manual Lymphatic Drainage in more detail:

What is Manual Lympahtic Drainage (video)

Many therapists only take a few hours of training in lymphatic massage

Some massage colleges teach a simplified version of lymphatic massage to students at a basic level. Inquire as to how many hours your therapist spent studying lymphatic massage and whether he/she received a certification. Manual Lymphatic Drainage involves directing lymphatic flow away from an affected area of the body to adjacent lymph nodes. If you are using Manual Lymphatic Drainage to help your symptoms after cancer surgery or plastic surgery, make sure your therapist knows how to redirect your lymph to the correct lymph nodes. The program that teaches these advanced skills leads to a certification of CLT or ‘Certified Lymphedema Therapist.’

Some of those videos on Youtube aren’t really useful

Lightly brushing your fingers against your skin or scalp is very relaxing, but does it really improve lymphatic flow? Here is a video that demonstrates the type of self MLD that is shown to patients with lymphedema:

Self Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Deep breathing can help improve lymphatic flow in your body

Deep breathing activates the diaphragm and the overall lymphatic system. The first few minutes of every session of Manual Lymphatic Drainage focuses on abdominal massage and deep breathing.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage works hand in hand with proper compression

Recovery from surgical procedures like a tummy tuck or reducing limb volume present in lymphedema requires the use of a compression garment. This garment, when properly fitted, will work to reduce the level of swelling in the affected area of the body. Sleeping in an elevated position uses gravity in a similar way for facelift clients. Your plastic surgeon can give you advice on which garment to wear. Be aware — sometimes improperly fitting drugstore compression garments may do more harm than good! Proper compression is an investment in your recovery.

About Kathleen Lisson

Kathleen Lisson is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist and the author of Lipedema Treatment Guide, available on Amazon at http://a.co/6x3HTCz



Kathleen Lisson

San Diego lymphedema therapist, Massage CE provider. Author, Plastic Surgery Recovery Handbook & Lipedema Treatment Guide, Stress Reduction for Lymphedema.