Can a Trendy Lymphatic Draining Massage Alleviate Your Bloating and Constipation?

We went and saw for ourselves

January 5, 2022 8:50 am
A man getting a massage, possibly a lymphatic draining massage.

As much as I’d like to be a person who’s above sponcon, I am easily influenced by social media influencers and the products they’re being paid to peddle. I’m a simple person. When I’m told a product/service will drastically change my life, I take out my credit card.

This problem has only been exacerbated by TikTok, the video-sharing platform that is a master at getting you to spend money due to its addictive algorithm that can make any advertisement or sponsored post seem like just another video. 

It’s on that very app that I discovered lymphatic drainage massages after a few New York City TikTokers filmed themselves frequenting The Tox, a trendy “drainage” spa that performs a specialized technique that focuses on “detoxifying the body and mind” by targeting the lymphatic and digestive system. Sort of like the IV drip lounges promising to alleviate your hangover with recovery bags packed with electrolytes and immunity vitamins, the company and the influencers they’re draining claim the rubdown helps release built-up toxins in the body from a weekend bender, everyday stress, pollution, fast food, etc., leaving you feeling lighter and looking toned all while giving your immune system a boost. 

So I could get a relaxing massage and reduce the painful bloating that often plagues my day-to-day? Who needs to adopt a healthier lifestyle when I can just pay someone to push all the toxic gunk out of me. Sold.

But then, the wellness industry is a well that never runs dry, and unless you have the money to throw at every buzzy new self-care “solution,” you should know what is and isn’t worth it. It’s why I tapped a few experts to first understand what a lymphatic drainage massage does exactly, then booked my very own treatment at luxury NYC wellness center The Well to see what all the hubbub is about.

Before it was hawked as a viral toning treatment by TikTok influencers, lymphatic drainage massages were mainly recommended for people with injuries or various health conditions like lymphedema, which involves lymph fluid swelling generally in the legs and arms. 

“A lymphatic drainage massage is a form of a very light but effective massage that stimulates the movement of lymph around the body that helps the removal of waste products from body tissues,” explains Deborah Reuss, MD, HHP, NCBTMB and Academic Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Pacific College of Health and Science.

“Many different health conditions can cause lymph fluid to get stuck in the body. Some conditions may be people with lymphedema, fibromyalgia and sports injuries that can cause swelling.” Doctors also recommend lymphatic drainage massages to people who have undergone cancer treatments, like post-mastectomy patients who have had an axillary lymph node dissection, notes double certified plastic surgeon Dr. Michele Koo.

The main goal of the massage is to remove the excess fluids in your lymphatic system and lymph nodes by using light rhythmic movements to stimulate fluid movement. The lymphatic system, if you’re unfamiliar, is a network of vessels in your body that’s part of your immune system. The lymphatic symptom’s job is to clear extra fluid from body tissue, absorb fats from the digestive tract and help protect your body against bacteria and viruses. So when there is damage to it caused by surgeries or a medical condition, lymph fluid can build up. Massage therapists specialized in lymph drainage will gently target major lymph nodes located in places like the armpit, neck, groin and abdomen to stimulate circulation. 

“Lymphatic massage mechanically helps the lymph fluid return to the venous circulation, thereby reducing swelling. The compression via massage, stockings or wraps forces the fluid back into the circulation and prevents continued expansion,” adds Koo. 

While this type of massage mainly benefits those with swelling conditions like lymphoma, the experts I spoke with also noted some additional benefits of lymphatic drainage massages, which can help with skin disorders, fatigue, digestive problems and arthritis. 

“Getting a lymphatic drainage massage can help you feel more energized and improve your digestion, circulation and metabolic rate so that you can burn calories more efficiently. It can also reduce bloating and water retention, alleviate constipation and help you sleep better, too,” adds Laura Dyer, a board-certified physician’s assistant. 

As for my own lymph drainage massage, the experience was … interesting. Different from a regular massage you might indulge in for pure relaxation, this treatment certainly felt more like a soothing medical treatment. My massage therapist, for example, asked if I experienced issues like bloating or constipation then targeted particular problem areas like the small intestine in addition to the rest of my lymph nodes. 

So did it cure my bloat? 

The days following my treatment I definitely felt lighter and less bloated, and let’s just say this massage worked better than a bottle of Miralax (so all you IBS hotties take note). However, I’d say those effects lasted for only about a week and a half. Still, for those who don’t suffer from swelling conditions where lymphatic drainage massages might be necessary to reduce pain, the treatment is worthwhile if you’re looking for a relaxing detox every now and then. 

But a couple of things to keep in mind before you book your first lymph drainage sesh:

Every expert I spoke to stressed the importance of going to a qualified, reputable massive therapist or someone with a qualification in manual therapy since this type of massage is extremely specialized. Lastly, if you have a health condition check with your doctor to make sure lymph drainage is safe for you because the treatment is not recommended for everyone. 

“Those who should not have a lymphatic massage are people with congestive heart failure, blood clots, kidney problems, infections, or circulation problems,” notes Koo. “Anyone with any of these medical conditions should talk to a health care professional before receiving a lymphatic massage.”

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