Why Everyone's Obsessed With Lymphatic Drainage
Lymphatic drainage massages are all the rage, and celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Hailey Bieber and Alessandra Ambrosio swear by them to get red-carpet ready. And the hype is there for a reason – lymphatic drainage can leave you feeling (and looking) quite instantly de-puffed. But there’s more to this massage technique than just vanity; taking care of our lymphatic system is vital for energy, immunity, skin health, metabolism and helps counter inflammation in the body. It can even affect our mood, making it a vital part of any holistic well-being routine. If you’re a fan of these massages you’ll know that they can be eye-wateringly expensive, with single treatments topping the £300 mark. And whilst they do the trick for an immediate boost, the lymphatic system needs regular attention to do its thing, so it’s not the most sustainable of habits. There’s good news. You don’t need expensive massages to encourage lymphatic drainage. From self-massage and simple yoga poses to lifestyle hacks and lymphatic herbs, there are plenty of ways to give your lymph some love.
First, let’s quickly go over what the lymphatic system is.
Our lymphatic systems a complex network of organs, vessels, and tissues that move together to move lymphatic fluid through the body; it's a part of both our immune and circulatory systems, and plays a critical role in fluid regulation, detoxification, nutrient absorption and the elimination of metabolic waste from cellular processes like inflammation, respiration and immune activation. Think of it as a core part of our detoxification system. It’s responsible for carrying waste, whether from food, personal care products, pollutants and more, from our tissues into the bloodstream so that it can be eliminated or metabolised. But, unlike our circulatory system, our lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump, so it relies on the contraction of muscles or manual stimulation to help move fluid through our system. When our lymphatic system is congested, the buildup of lymph can make us feel puffy, retain water, feel sore, fatigued, inflamed and bloated- and can even contribute to cellulite, poor immunity, brain fog and more.
What Causes Lymphatic Congestion?
Once you know what the lymphatic system is and how it works, it’s easy to understand the factors that can lead to congestion.
- Dehydration: Dehydration is a killer for a healthy lymphatic system. Lymph fluid is primarily water, and as we discussed above, one of its roles is to help maintain fluid balance. If we’re dehydrated, the body will hold on to more water, so staying hydrated is key to a healthy immune system.
- Inflammation: Our lymphatic system is involved in our body’s normal inflammatory response, and manual lymphatic drainage techniques are often recommended to help the lymph deal with the inflammatory burden from things like surgery and injury. Like with other systems, it’s a fine balance, and when we are exposed to chronic inflammation, the function and structure of our lymphatic system can be impaired (1), leading to congestion.
- Toxins: The liver, bowel, and lymphatic system all work together to metabolise and eliminate toxins from the body, but they can only handle so much. Exposure to toxins from our lifestyle is normal, but it can all add up. We are constantly bombarded by toxins that need to be metabolised, including environmental pollutants, alcohol, medications, food additives and chemicals, skin care, make-up, cleaning products and more.
How to encourage lymphatic drainage.
We wouldn’t say no to a dreamy lymphatic drainage massage, but there are lots of other ways you can – and should – be taking care of this vital system. Here are some of our favourites.
Otherwise known as ‘legs up the wall pose’ in yoga, elevating our legs at the end of the day is one of the most simple and effective ways to stimulate lymphatic drainage. Throughout the day, blood and fluid can build up in our legs, so flipping gravity on its head is an easy (and calming) way to help. Simply lay on the floor with your legs elevated and rested on a wall; you can do this for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. If you have tight hamstrings, a yoga bolster or pillow under your lower back can help support. This has the added benefit of helping us switch from a sympathetic (or fight or flight) dominant state to a more restful, parasympathetic state. If you’re short on time, it's also a great opportunity to habit stack; throw on a face mask or add some meditation to get more out of your session.
This pre-shower ritual is a firm ARTAH favourite for smooth skin and detox support. Dry brushing in the morning will encourage the flow of lymph, boost circulation and exfoliate dead skin cells. Because of this, it can also help us de-puff, clear congestion and reduce the appearance of cellulite whilst contributing to overall lymphatic health and wellbeing. Try our Natural Body Brush - once you start, dry brushing will quickly become a staple in your routine. Be mindful if you have eczema or any area of skin that is broken; these areas should be avoided when dry brushing.
This may not be the most practical method if you don’t have excess house space; it’s one of the easiest (and most fun) ways to stimulate our lymphatic system. Rebounding involves jumping on a mini trampoline for 3-4 minutes at a time. The pressure of jumping acts as a pump for the lymphatic system by opening and closing its valves, stimulating circulation and drainage as a results. If a trampoline is a no-go, skipping can also have similar effects.
Lymphatic support should be top on the list of benefits that come with contrast showers, which also include improved mood, reduced anxiety (2), better blood sugar control and immune resilience (3). The vasoconstriction of our vessels from the cold followed by vasodilation from the heat work together to create the pumping action the lymph needs to move. Pro tip: we recommend always ending on a cold cycle.
Because of its role in fluid regulation, proper hydration is key for optimal lymphatic drainage and overall health. It’s important to replenish electrolytes alongside your water intake, so try Cellular Hydration; in addition to electrolytes, it has adaptogenic herb Maca which also boasts anti-inflammatory properties alongside its role as an antioxidant hormone and immune support. (3)
In traditional medicines, lymphatic herbs are considered blood purifiers, and include herbs that help reduce inflammation, support detoxification, stimulate circulation and have a diuretic effect. One of the most revered lymphatic herbs in Ayurveda is Gota Kola, which is used to increase blood flow, improve the integrity of connective tissues, reduce inflammation and acts as a mild diuretic to combat water retention. In clinical trials, it has been shown to improve symptoms of oedema, tired/heavy legs and muscle cramps (4), and to relieve ankle swelling in flights when taken for three days before and after flying (5). Other classic botanicals for lymphatic support include Turmeric, for combating inflammation, Milk Thistle, for detoxification and protection against toxins and Cayenne, for stimulating circulation.
For a therapeutic dose of Gotu Kola, try Skin Clinic.
For detoxification support, try Deep Detox.
1. Schwager S, Detmar M. Inflammation and Lymphatic Function. Front Immunol. 2019 Feb 26;10:308. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00308. PMID: 30863410; PMCID: PMC6399417.
2. Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. N Am J Med Sci. 2014 May;6(5):199-209. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935. PMID: 24926444; PMCID: PMC4049052.
3. Buijze GA, Sierevelt IN, van der Heijden BC, Dijkgraaf MG, Frings-Dresen MH. The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. 2016 Sep 15;11(9):e0161749. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161749. Erratum in: PLoS One. 2018 Aug 2;13(8):e0201978. PMID: 27631616; PMCID: PMC5025014.
4. Incandela L, Belcaro G, De Sanctis MT, et al. Total triterpenic fraction of Centella asiatica in the treatment of venous hypertension: a clinical, prospective randomized trial using a combined microcirculatory model. Angiology. October 2001;Suppl 2 S61-6
5. Cesarone MR, Incandela L, De Sanctis MT, et al. Flight microangiopathy in medium- to long-distance flights: prevention of edema and microcirculation alterations with total triterpenic fraction of Centella asiatica. Angiology. October 2001;52 Suppl 2:S33-37.
This article is for educational purposes only and the implementation of the theories and practices discussed is at the sole discretion of the individual. All information given is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns about your health, you should speak with your physician.