Updated: Mar 6, 2022
Lymphatic massage (LM) is a specific type of massage therapy used to decrease the amount of body edema or swelling by facilitating transport of excessive soft tissue fluid into the lymphatic system.
During lymphatic massage session the therapist uses manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) techniques to mobilize fluid from a particular body area into the lymphatic outflow system. Using a set of various repetitive strokes over swollen soft tissue therapist facilitates transport of extra tissue fluid into lymphatic vessels, nodes, main lymphatic trunks and finally into systemic blood stream to be further excreted out by kidneys.
Initially LM was developed to treat different types of acute and chronic lymphedema with excellent clinical outcomes. However, more recently MLD techniques were successfully used to facilitate body recovery after cosmetic surgical procedures. Decreasing the amount of edema after cosmetic surgery by "moving" fluid from affected by surgery resulted in significant benefits. Currently, specific MLD techniques that are used for postoperative recovery after plastic surgery are known as "postoperative lymphatic massage" or "lymphatic drainage".
Note: Term "lymphatic massage" is used in this article as MLD related specifically to postoperative recovery after plastic surgery procedures and in particular to recovery after liposuction.
Although the term "lymphatic massage" is frequently and widely used to describe postoperative manual lymphatic drainage techniques, such choice of nomenclature may not adequately reflect the full spectrum of the complex pathophysiological changes that are affected by MLD techniques. Injury to the multiple biological systems in soft tissues after surgery results in multifactorial postoperative soft tissue fluid congestion. Therefore, term manual decongestive therapy perhaps reflects physiological effects of this massage modality more accurately.