This is the fifth installment in our "Myth"conceptions About Lymph Massage series (full list here). Today we're going to take a look at the myth that Lymph Massage can only be done by a professional... and of course the counter-myth that you don't need a pro to do it. As always, there is some truth on both sides and your answer is somewhere in the middle.
Let's get to it!
Not true, but there are nuances to this.
While it is true that to perform LF properly you need to know what you’re doing, it doesn’t necessarily have to be done by a professional therapist. It could be you, a family member or friend – anyone.
I performed LF in my practice as a professional, but I also taught people how to do it on themselves. I also taught parents how to do it on their athlete children and people how to do it for post-surgical care for their spouses.
What is true is that you need to be taught by a professional who knows what they are doing.
Lymph Massage Doesn't Have to be Done by a Pro, But They (or You) Need the Right Skills.
Do not assume that any massage therapist knows LF (remember the saying about assuming?). Lymphatic work and “regular” massage or deep tissue are definitely not the same beast.
Fact is, most massage therapists only receive a few hours of training in lymphatic work in their foundational program. A cursory training however many years ago does not an expert make. To be fair, if the work resonates with them they can practice it a lot and become experts.
And of course there are specialty trainings. You can think of lymphatic massage like a doctor’s specialty – they learn some basics in med school, but then they go on to do extensive training and practice in a focused field.
"Lymphatic Therapy is a specialty and not every therapist knows how to do it effectively. Make sure you get a pro who knows their stuff."
It used to be said that massage (often Swedish massage) moves lymph. Not really…
“Typical” massage can dump more stuff as a demand on the lymph system, but doesn’t really encourage the flow any more than putting out extra garbage bags makes the garbage truck come earlier.
It actually may encourage the traffic jam we discussed in Myth 3 – it can be like forcing more cars onto an already packed road.
Massage focuses mainly on pressing down into the muscle and connective tissues of the body, but the delicate lymph structures actually get squeezed shut with the pressure, i.e. pushing water into a closed/clogged storm drain doesn’t work.
So no, “typical” massage doesn’t do much for moving lymph.
What it actually does is stir up the stuff that the lymph system takes up, but it doesn’t actually make it take it up. How well does dumping more water into a sink with a slow drain work? (not)
The Professionals Who Can Do Lymph Massage Are Varied
However… while not all massage therapists know LF, most lymphatic therapists are massage therapists, or PTs, or athletic trainers… In other words, LF is a sub-specialty, kind of like while not all doctors know neurosurgery, all neurosurgeons are doctors. Get it?
You don’t have to be a professional, licensed massage therapist or manual therapy professional to know and do LF, but most practitioners are and if you’re going to get it done, see a specialist or someone who has the skills and knowhow – not a generalist who says “I learned about that for a day 10 years ago in massage school”.
And in a little bit of shameless self-promotion here, I teach you how to do self-lymphatic treatment in my DIY Lymph Massage Program.