Is it safe?

Is Lymph Massage Safe?

Whether Lymph Massage is safe for you is a frequently asked question and no wonder since there is a LOT of misinformation out there (see our “Mythconceptions about Lymph Massage” article).

The question often accompanies a condition, “is Lymph Massage safe for X?” You can check the bottom of the post for information on specific conditions, but first let’s talk about the safety (and risks) of lymphatic work in general.

First Some Terms

There are a lot of other terms for lymphatic work that you might see or hear – lymph massage, lymph drainage, lymph therapy & lymph work all to describe the same thing.

In our DIY Lymph Massage program here, we teach something called Lymphatic Facilitation or LF, but to understand what that is, we need to cover a few things first…

There are a ton of different terms used to describe lymphatic work, most meaning close to the same thing.

  • Lymph vs Lymphatic

    Practically speaking, we can use the terms interchangeably. Technically lymph is the term for the fluid and material in the lymphatic system. Lymphatic would be used to describe something pertaining to the Lymphatic System. Lymph(atic) techniques attempt to move lymph through the lymphatic system.

  • Lymph Drainage (Lymphatic Drainage)

    Lymph Drainage refers to any technique that encourages the movement (drainage) of lymph. It’s goal is to reduce congestion & edema (swelling). It can include massage, cupping, brushing, bandaging, even surgical procedures to drain fluid.

  • Lymph Massage (Lymphatic Massage)

    Lymph Massage refers to using hands-on techniques to move lymph, so it could be considered a subset of lymph drainage techniques – massage, cupping, and even brushing can be included here. In the same way, it also targets congestion & edema (swelling).

  • Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)

    Lymph Massage refers to using hands-on techniques to move lymph, so it could be considered a subset of lymph drainage techniques – massage, cupping, and even brushing can be included here. In the same way, it also targets congestion & edema (swelling).

  • Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT)

    Also called Complex Decongestive Therapy, this is another branded method but is a more comprehensive, combined approach to treat lymphedema using bandaging, MLD, exercise, and self-care. This is the gold-standard treatment for lymphedema, but isn’t necessary for dealing with traumatic swelling.

  • The Vodder Method

    These are the original techniques developed by Drs. Emil & Astrid Vodder to treat lymphedema - CDT and MLD. Used to refer to the original methods as opposed to modern variants.

  • Swelling & Edema

    Again, in the real world they mean pretty much the same thing. Edema is an excess of fluid in the tissues and swelling is the state of having that excess fluid.

And finally we get to it…

Cheering kids with rainbow

Lymphatic Facilitation (LF)

What we’re all about in our DIY Lymph Massage Program

LF is what we teach here at DIY Lymph Massage. This is the self-care component of MLD and CDT, the part you can do on yourself, at home. LF is a subset and simplification of the techniques used in professional MLD & CDT therapies designed to be used for self-care.

So what is the difference?

It has to do with what is happening with your lymphatic system.

CDT/MLD techniques are meant for a compromised lymph system that isn’t doing it’s job properly (simplified).

LF techniques are meant for a normal, healthy lymphatic system that is currently overwhelmed.

That’s a big difference and requires different approaches.

In simplest terms…

That’s a big difference and requires different approaches.

I really can’t emphasize it enough. If your part of your lymphatic system is compromised (i.e. broken), don’t use Lymphatic Facilitation to treat yourself unless you’ve been instructed to by a qualified professional!

So Is Lymph Massage Safe?

The short answer is YES, but of course there is more to it than that. LF isn’t complicated, but there can be complications with certain conditions.

Certainly L​ymph Drainage a powerful tool, but you always want to make sure you’re using the right tool for the right job, right? If you don’t, it either won’t work or it could harm something.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

In medical speak, there are indications, contraindications, and cautions for Lymphatic Massage.

In plain speak, that means there things that call for Lymph Massage (known to help). Likewise, there are other things where you should avoid Lymph Massage (no no’s). ​And finally, other things where you can use Lymph Massage after some consideration.

Also, there is also the aspect of location – does it affect a small part of you or your entire body?

What are Indications, Contraindications, and Cautions?

Remember that if you’re not qualified to diagnose yourself, you need to seek expert help from a doctor or other qualified professional.

Indications

Yes! An indication is a condition that will benefit from the treatment, in this case Lymphatic Massage. Evidence has shown that the treatment will help, it’s a good thing to do, and that the condition signals you should do this particular treatment.

Contraindications

No! In contrast, a contraindication is just the opposite (not-indicated) and you should avoid doing that treatment or technique with that condition. ​Evidence has shown that it is a bad thing to put that condition together with that treatment – in this case Lymph Massage.

To be “not contraindicated” doesn’t mean that it is indicated, but that it won’t be harmful, but it ​also isn’t proven to be helpful – it might or might not help.

​Also, bear in mind that one treatment could be indicated and another contraindicated for the same condition (i.e. the condition calls for X, but not for Y)

Cautions

Maybe. A caution means that there are some considerations to account for when applying a certain treatment to a particular condition. Basically it means “go ahead, but proceed with caution and necessary modification”.

In other words, alter the pressure or location or application of the treatment and you’ll be ​OK.

Are you with me so far? (If not, use the feedback box at the end of the post to let me know and I’ll fix it ASAP!)

Local vs General

In real estate the mantra is location, location, location. It’s the same for indications/contraindications.

While some conditions only affect a certain part of the body, or “local” (broken bone, bruise, muscle strain…) ​​others affect the whole body, or “general” (diabetes, heart failure, liver disease…).

​Not to mention, some conditions can change as they progress too! Stage I cancer may be a local contraindication, while Stage IV cancer is general and may not be contraindicated.

Finally, a condition can be generally indicated, but have local contraindications, as well as cautions!

For example: A patient is recovering from a Tummy Tuck (indication), has low blood pressure (a general caution), and has a broken finger (local contraindication). Each condition has different considerations.

And while we’re at it…

Signs vs Symptoms

A sign is the outward, observable marker of a condition – something a person on the outside would use to determine if a condition is present.

On the other hand, a symptom is part of the internal experience of the condition – something the person who has the condition experiences, but isn’t necessarily observable on the outside.

For example: The body aches from a fever aren’t outwardly observable (symptom), but redness and elevated temperature are (signs).

The signs and symptoms of inflammation are probably why you’re here reading this – They’re…

  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • A Loss of Function
  • Redness
  • Pain

…aka SHARP. And the more intense they are, the more miserable your experience.

General Safety Points About Lymph Massage

It’s Gentle

Super Gentle

Lymph work is gentle. And I mean super-gentle. Like just enough pressure to move your eyelid over your eyeball ​gentle. Yes, it’s that light.

Go ahead, try it. How much pressure do you need to move your eyelid around?

You use a bit more pressure over the lymph nodes themselves and for the diaphragm, but it’s still gentle and non-rigorous. Most of the techniques only move the skin, not even pressing into the muscle layer underneath.

Side Note: If your massage therapist is pushing down into the muscle layers and calling it lymph massage… they’re dead wrong!

Moderate to deep pressure actually inhibits lymph flow. It might be stirring up metabolic waste and other junk that needs to be flushed out, but it’s not enhance the removal of that waste.

It’s like a DIY construction project on your house. You demolish stuff and create trash from the things you’re removing and the packaging of the new material (Deep massage is like the remodeling). But that doesn’t take it away. That’s garbage day or the dump run (Lymph Massage is like the clean up).

Now Lymph Massage does increase flow and creates some suction, so that can increase the demand on your system for circulatory conditions. ​So there ​can also be a minor risk (remember it’s gentle) of encouraging a clot to dislodge if there are any. However, the gentleness of the technique does make it likely no more risky than many normal activities.

One guideline I use a lot is a person’s level of activity. If they can handle moderate+ intensity exercise, lymph massage won’t be any more demanding.

Specific Techniques

If the techniques are performed properly (i.e. get some training and guidance), there is very little risk of doing something wrong. That’s because Lymphatic techniques are performed in a specific, almost scripted sequence with only minor variations, so it’s harder for a non-professional to screw up than other forms of more rigorous self-bodywork treatments.

If you respect the cautions and perform the techniques appropriately, the worst that would happen is that the work is ineffective, not dangerous.

The Benefits ​Are Too Great

I know that sounds facetious, but honestly, the advantages to improving recovery or reducing the symptoms of a miserable chronic condition ​are too good to pass up. Granted, it’s not an option for certain conditions (​see below).

But, Lymph Treatment is a powerful tool to use on conditions like surgical or injury (​and athletic) recovery, chronic inflammation (non-infectious), chronic conditions, cancer, travel edema, and pregnancy to name a few.

And to top it off, it is something that can be easily learned to do on yourself at home, reducing your reliance on specialists for minor to moderate problems or as an adjunct treatment to professional care for better results. ​So, the power is literally in your hands!

Yes, Lymph Massage Is Safe!

Let's Get Specific

INDICATIONS (YES! CONDITIONS)

  • Swelling due to traumatic injury, accident, or surgery (with no complications or infection) – sprains, strains, bruising
  • Normal, healthy pregnancy ¹
  • Travel Edema
  • Athletic Recovery
  • Cancer ¹
  • Chronic Conditions that involve swelling – Lupus, Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, MS…
  • Chronic Idiopathic Swelling ¹ – see contraindications
  • Frequent Colds and Allergies
  • Chronic Stress and Tension

CONTRAINDICATIONS (NO! CONDITIONS)

General (Whole Body)

  • No swelling of unknown origin ¹
  • No infections or Fever
  • No blood clots (aka Thrombus or Embolism)
  • No Heart/Circulatory Disease: Congestive Heart Failure, Phlebitis, Heart Attack within 1 year ²
  • No Kidney Disease: Renal Failure, Dialysis
  • During Asthma or allergic episode

Local (Avoid the Location)

  • Wounds, broken skin or burns
  • Rashes, warts, and fungal infections
  • Herpes outbreaks (cold sores…)
  • Hyperthyroidism – avoid the neck
  • Inflamed Varicose Veins (swollen and warm) – at the site and on the side arther from the heart (distal)

CAUTIONS (MAYBE. PROCEED WITH CARE)

  • Diabetes ¹
  • Asthma – there is a very small chance LF work could trigger an episode, so start small to determine tolerance. The more severe your asthma, the smaller you should start to test yourself.
  • Post-Organ Transplants ¹

Notes:

¹ Lymph Massage may be appropriate if the condition is diagnosed and a physician gives the OK

² One year is a good guideline, but it could be longer or sooner depending on the extent of the damage and the capacity of the heart.

SPECIFIC SURGERIES

This list is not exhaustive! It’s only meant to act as a guide to give you an idea of the kinds of procedures that can benefit and patients sought treatment in my practice.

General Post-Op & Surgical Recovery

  • Hernia Repair
  • Hysterectomy, Uterine Ablation
  • Laparoscopic
  • C-Section (Caesarian)
  • Sterilization – Tubal Ligation & Vasectomy
  • Tumor Removal

C​osmetic/Plastic Surgeries & ​Non-Sur​gical Cosmetic Procedures

Surgeries:

  • ​Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) or Fat Transfers
  • ​Tummy Tuck – AKA Abdominoplasty, Liposuction for Stomach​/Abdomen, Thigh, Buttocks
  • Breast Surgery – Reduction or Augmentation (Implants, Enhancements, Enlargements)
  • ​Cosmetic/Plastic Surgery for the Face or Body
  • Reconstructive Surgery

​Non-Surgical Procedures:

  • Laser Lipo – Hot or Cold Laser

Orthopedic Surgeries

  • ACL/MCL/Meniscus Surgeries
  • Hip and Knee Replacements
  • Spinal Fusions, Discectomies, Disc Replacements, Laminectomies
  • Rotator Cuff/Labrum Repair
  • Carpal Tunnel Surgery
  • Elbow Tendinitis Cleaning and Tommy John’s

SPECIFIC INJURIES

  • Rotator Cuff/Shoulder/Labrum
  • ​Sprains – Ankle, Knee, Wrist
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Tendinitis/Tendinosis – Golfer’s Elbow, Tennis Elbow, Jumper’s/Runner’s Knee, Shin Splints
  • ​Post-Workout/Competition Soreness (DOMS)
  • Bruising/Hematoma, Contusions
  • Strained/Pulled Muscles
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Snapping Hip Syndrome (Dancer’s Hip)

SPECIFIC CONDITIONS

Links to individual articles coming soon

  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • MS
  • Lupus
  • Migraines
  • Lyme Disease
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Travel Edema
  • Athletic Recovery (Workout or Competition)
  • Pregnancy
  • Bruising (Hematoma)
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Chronic Pain
  • Arthritis & Spondylosis
  • Stress – Acute and Chronic

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