I want to start by saying what I do in my practice is actually not even lymphatic massage. It is truly called manual lymphatic drainage. But I realized as I was creating my business plan and business name that manual lymphatic drainage might sound scary and foreign to the everyday person. And let's face it, the everyday person is one of my ideal clients. So, I decided to call is lymphatic massage because that sounds much nicer and gives the potential client the picture of stimulating your lymphatic system. Which is exactly what I do with my technique.
Did you know that every massage therapist can promote that they can perform lymphatic massage. But I am here to tell you that what a massage therapist does for lymphatic massage and what a certified lymphedema therapist (like myself) does is COMPLETELY different. In massage school you are likely to get about 5-10 hours of training on the lymphatic system and how to perform lymphatic massage. The training consists of a brief overview of the functions and structure of the lymphatic system and how to provide a massage. The techniques consist of long light effleurage stroking and some vibration. While these techniques are likely great for increasing circulation and relaxation, I would challenge whether they are actually stimulating the lymphatic system.
In order to stimulate the lymphatic system there must be some sort of skin stretch involved to physiologically change the structure of the initial lymphatic collectors in the skin. As pictured below each initial collector contains a series of overlapping valves equipped with anchoring filaments that anchor to the skin and subcutaneous tissue. The only way these valves are stimulated is by changes in pressure and stretching the skin. When the valves open this is when the interstitial fluid and toxins or cellular debris are sucked into the lymphatic system for removal.
You don't learn this in massage school. I learned all of the advanced anatomy and physiology by going through my certified lymphedema training CLT) as well as countless hours of continuing education courses throughout the years. The initial training to become a CLT involved 80 hours of continuing education, which does not include the pre-reading required in texts like "Foldi's Textbook of Lymphology" and "Theory and Practice of Lymph Drainage Therapy". Ooofta, it's a TON of info. All that to say the technique that I learned and know is much more advanced than a massage therapist and darn I say better? I know without a doubt that I am making a change on the lymphatic system when I use my skills as you are laying on my table. I know that I will be increasing the lymphatic pumping and providing benefits like boosting your immune system, reducing swelling/bloat, removing cellular debris, toxins and pathogens thereby detoxifying your body, among many other benefits.
When I was deciding to open my business I went to a couple spas in order to "secret shop" to see what their techniques were, and let me just say this, I am so glad I did. It gave me great insight into the vast need for my services in my community. One of the places didn't even have me take my clothes off, I just laid on the table with all my clothes on. Now tell me how you are stimulating my lymphatic system over my clothes? You aren't even touching my skin. 🤦🏼♀️ The second one I at least got undressed, but there was no central clearing (a fancy term for clearing the center part of your body first) and appeared to be nonsensical order or logic.
I challenge you to do your research prior to scheduling a lymphatic massage with just any massage therapist or spa. Ask what kind of advanced training the massage therapist has had. Where did they get their training from? How many hours of training did they attend?
Now if you get one of these lymphatic massages from someone who does not have advanced training, will it hurt you? The answer is no. However you really aren't reaping the benefits. Especially if you have swelling or heaven forbid lymphedema or lipedema. You absolutely need a certified lymphedema therapist to perform advanced treatment of these disorders, in these cases, it might not hurt you, but it might make your swelling worse and be a waste of time and money.