Lymphatic Drainage Is the Stimulating Massage Your Body Needs

The author before and after lymphatic drainage

Carly Cardellino/Byrdie

Post-baby, it’d seem as though I lost the majority of my baby weight rather swiftly—and I did—but there was also this annoying all-over puffiness that was taking up residence on my upper arms, belly, and upper legs that I just couldn’t seem to iron out over time. 

I toggled over to Instagram's Explore Page and found a woman wielding a giant wooden body brush. It was Melissa Wood-Tepperberg aka Melissa Wood Health. She was doing an at-home lymphatic drainage tutorial.

Meet the Expert

Read on for more about the benefits of lymphatic drainage massage.

What Is Lymphatic Drainage?

“Lymphatic drainage is a manual massage technique that works on the lymphatic system, stimulating it to work quickly by moving the lymph to the lymph nodes [throughout your body, but largely located in your neck, armpits, and groin]," massage therapist Flavia Lanini says. Its main function is to accelerate the process of removing the accumulated liquid between the cells and their catabolic [aka breakdown of] residues, directing them to the capillary vessels and, through specific movements, [onward] so that they are eliminated.

I never really included the practice into my beauty routine, but now seemed like the right time.

Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage Massage 

According to Lanini, the benefits of lymphatic drainage are extensive, mainly in the transport and removal of stagnant fluids, but it also:

  • Stimulates blood circulation and tissue regeneration
  • Directs and increases lymphatic flow, promoting faster removal of excess interstitial fluid
  • Reduces swelling and water retention
  • Improves the immune system due to the important elimination of toxins
  • Minimizes the appearance of cellulite by reducing the amount of fluid that presses up against the cross-hatched fibers beneath your skin
  • Promotes body and mental relaxation
  • Provides an overall lightness in the body
  • Energizes the body: While Carson says that "there isn’t enough scientific research to support lymphatic drainage outside of medical treatment for lymphedema," she notes that "many individuals report improvements in symptoms including energy, focus, reduced puffiness, and mood."
carly cardellino
carly cardellino/byrdie

How to Prepare

If you’re looking to have lymphatic drainage done to you, Lanini suggests searching for a licensed professional with references and experience, much like you would when choosing a physician. You want someone who knows what they’re doing so you get the best results. If you bruise easily, like me, avoid taking anything that can cause blood thinning, like ibuprofen, one week before your appointment. 

If you’re going the at-home route, Carson says: "At home, practices including dry brushing, gua sha, and sauna can all help optimize lymphatic flow."

Get the tools you need, like an oil or lotion for slip, a dry brush, or a lymphatic drainage tool that can aid you in your DIY experience. Note: You shouldn’t be pressing that hard that you’d bruise yourself at home. But, I know some people mark easier than others, so just wanted to throw that out there.

Wood told me exactly how to prep for my at-home lymphatic drainage regimen (more on that below), which she also tells you in her video, which included a body brush (I had one collecting dust in my bathroom) and the cool wooden tool she uses. It's De la Heart's Lymphatic Drainage Body Tool ($29)—which the company graciously gifted to me for this story, full disclosure—with some jojoba oil to help the tool glide over your skin.

What to Expect

If someone is giving you a lymphatic drainage massage, prepare to feel them working on you—it’s not a Swedish massage, it’s definitely deeper. But also, expect to feel lighter when it’s over and to look more contoured. You’ll notice a pinkish tint to your skin that’s directly related to increased blood flow. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you’re sore the following two days from the pressure the therapist will use during the massage. You also might notice more mobility in certain muscles than you didn’t previously have (which, goals). As well as an energized feeling within your body, along with the need to pee more. This happens because your lymph will be moving properly, but also because you’ll need to stay hydrated post-massage (professional or DIY) to maintain the benefits. 

Lymphatic Drainage Massage: At-Home vs. by a Professional 

If you make an appointment with a massage therapist, like Lanini, you can expect a signature treatment that combines lymphatic drainage, contouring (a combination of deeper strokes to release the tissue, increase the metabolism, and promote a chiseled effect), relaxation, and myofascial release (when you apply gentle pressure on the myofascial tissue to help with muscle pain and, ultimately, restore motion), Flavia explains. At the start of your appointment, you’ll discuss your goals with your therapist and how much time you have; the client’s necessities typically determine how the therapist maps out each session. But since Flavia’s clients are typically long-term patients, she already knows what happened during the last session (and their history), so she starts from there. That said, starting with the back of the legs, moving up to the back, switching to the front of the legs, then stomach, working your way up to the neck, and ending up at the face is a good sequence, in her opinion. 

At home, just like with the lymphatic massage Wood did on herself (and what you’ll see me do on myself below), you’ll notice similar results to having a professional work on you, but, in my opinion, there is less of an immediate contoured effect. This is mainly because you won’t be able to work as deep on yourself as someone else would. The biggest difference: As Wood mentioned in her video, while at-home lymphatic drainage is easy and accessible, it’s always more fun to have someone massage you because you’re not doing any of the work!

Side Effects

Since you’re promoting proper lymph movement—something your body is meant to do naturally—there is little risk with lymphatic drainage. However, you want to make sure you’re doing it properly. Always moving the lymph toward your heart with upward motions, and then downward motions on your belly toward your groin.

That said, if you’re pregnant or have underlying health conditions, definitely talk to your doctor before making an appointment with a professional or using an at-home method. "Contraindications for this therapy include active cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection), moderate-to-severe heart failure, or deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the leg)," Carson says. "Individuals with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes with complications, asthma or limb paralysis may pursue MLD but may require additional monitoring."

What It’s Like to Try an At-Home Lymphatic Drainage Method

Okay, back to my at-home experience. The original plan was to have Melissa come to my apartment and show me the way. Thankfully, Wood’s tutorial was very thorough, so the new plan was to follow her technique for a month, twice a week.

  • Dry-brushing pre-shower triggers the lymph to start draining. Wood uses Yerba Prima's Tampico Skin Brush ($14).
  • De La Heart's Lymphatic Drainage Body Tool ($32) post-shower to continue stimulating circulation and moving the lymph.

Mind you, I know these tools aren’t magic wands, so please note I have continued eating a balanced diet and working out several times a week (including Wood's insanely hard exercises on her site and another workout I often stream). Because of my lifestyle, Wood assured me if I do this routine consistently, I should start noticing results in a week or so. (Note: She also mentioned not drinking alcohol helps reduce inflammation in the body, which can contribute to puffiness, so I could cut that out if I wanted to take it to the next level. I decided I wasn’t going to go that route, but you can if that’s your vibe).

Melissa Wood's Lymphatic Drainage Massage Technique

As for Melissa Wood’s method: “You want to start at your ankle, working up the legs in a gentle circular motion,” she explains. “Think [about moving] up the limbs, [so] up the arms from the wrist to the armpit, and then down the torso to eliminate extra fluid and toxins in the body.

You will notice an increase in circulation, a decrease in inflammation, a boost of energy, and [possibly] reduced cellulite. [Dry brushing is also known to help digestive issues, stress, and I've personally experienced a tightening effect.” Melissa described dry brushing as a gentle approach; the paddle she recommends, which you use post-shower, takes it up a notch because it “digs in deeper,” she adds. “When I do the paddle, I also notice I have to pee more, as it’s moving the fluid out as you're moving toxins out of the body.” P.S. I’ve noticed this, too!

The product I first took for a test drive was my dry brush—I had the Goop Beauty G.Tox Goop Ultimate Dry Brush ($25) in my possession so that’s what I used.

The Step-By-Step Process

Step 1: Following Wood's guidance, I began using gentle upward strokes and circular motions on my arms (from wrist to shoulder).

Step 2: Then, I went in on my legs (from ankles to bum), and then downward strokes on my torso (from sternum to just above my pubic bone).

Step 3: Next, downward strokes on my torso (from sternum to just above my pubic bone). I could immediately see an increase in blood flow (my skin is super sensitive, so I could see a pinky flush rising to the surface), along with the feeling that my body was internally energized. 

Step 4: Post shower, I slathered my skin with oil to create some slip that way the tool glides over your skin versus pulling it. De La Heart sent me their jojoba oil ($14), but I’m also a huge fan of the Groto Skin Wizard Nourishing Baby Oil ($26). Yes, I stole this from my daughter, don’t tell her; it smells like a DREAM thanks to the sandalwood nut-, macadamia seed-, and sweet almond- oils it contains—plus, it has a natural fragrance of coconut and honey that is just divine—I could just eat it. I don’t, obviously, but I do love applying it—it’s super calming to me.

Step 5: Finally, using upward motions again, I started gliding De La Heart's Lymphatic Drainage Body Tool ($32) over my skin as if I were shaving my legs.

Carly / Byrdie

Step 6: Again, the goal is to move the lymph toward your heart, so your body can properly flush out the fluid and toxins.

Step 7: Just remember to use downward strokes on your stomach toward your pubic bone. The first time I did the combo I was hooked, so it was easy for me to continue this regimen for a month. I’m going to keep doing it three times a week and make it a permanent piece of my routine. I’m obsessed!

The Final Takeaway

Carly Cardellino

Carly Cardellino

Don’t get me wrong, while I love having someone else give me a massage (as a mama, I wanna chill moment, too, ya know?), this at-home technique is easy, much more affordable, and has not only been very relaxing and invigorating, I’ve definitely seen results that I’m really happy with.

Sure, they may not be as visible to someone else, but I’m not doing it for anyone else—just me. So, with that said, I’m raising a tall glass of water (as I mentioned, it’s important to stay hydrated after you do any form of lymphatic drainage) and cheers to new, at-home routines that can make you feel good about yourself as we all stay home and stay safe. 

Carly Cardellino

Carly Cardellino 

Bra and underwear by Skims


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