We debunk common misconceptions about lymphatic drainage and its effects. We compare popular claims with scientific research.

Debunking Myths About Lymphatic Drainage: What Does Science Say?

Lymphatic drainage massage has been gaining popularity in recent years. For many (including ourselves), it has become part of the morning routine, as we firsthand know the importance of caring for our lymphatic system. If you haven't fully embraced the care for your lymphatic system yet, this article might help you.

However, with increasing interest, there are many myths and misconceptions about its effects and benefits. In this article, we will dispel common myths about lymphatic drainage and examine scientific research to distinguish facts from fiction.
Myth #1: Lymphatic drainage is beneficial only for treating lymphedema.
Fact: While lymphatic drainage is indeed an effective treatment method for lymphedema (a condition characterized by swelling due to a malfunction of the lymphatic system), it has broader applications. Research has shown that lymphatic drainage can be beneficial for various conditions, including lymphatic congestion due to a sedentary lifestyle, edemas related to lymphatic stagnation, post-surgical recovery, chronic venous insufficiency, and even sports injuries.¹ ²

In a systematic review published in the Journal of Physiotherapy in 2015, 10 randomized controlled trials were analyzed. It was found that manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) could effectively reduce post-operative swelling and pain in patients after orthopedic and plastic surgeries.³

Myth #2: Lymphatic drainage is a painful and invasive procedure.
Fact: Lymphatic drainage is a gentle, non-invasive technique aimed at stimulating the movement of lymph throughout the body. It does not involve the use of needles or other invasive instruments. In fact, many people find lymphatic drainage massage to be relaxing and soothing.⁴

Myth #3: Lymphatic drainage is beneficial only for women.
Fact: Lymphatic drainage is a useful therapy for both men and women. The lymphatic system plays a crucial role in immune response, fluid balance, and waste removal for everyone, regardless of gender.⁵ Studies have shown that lymphatic drainage can be beneficial for people with various conditions, from post-surgical recovery to enhancing athletic performance.¹ ²

Myth #4: Lymphatic drainage can "cure" cellulite.
Fact: While lymphatic drainage can help reduce the appearance of cellulite by improving circulation and reducing fluid retention, it's not a cure-all. Cellulite is a complex condition influenced by factors such as genetics, hormones, and lifestyle.⁶

Myth #5: Lymphatic drainage aids in weight loss.
Fact: There's no scientific evidence to support the claim that lymphatic drainage directly results in weight loss. Here's how it works: lymphatic massage might help reduce fluid retention and promote the removal of metabolic waste products in the body, subsequently leading to a reduction in weight. However, it does not directly influence fat burning.⁷ ⁸ To achieve weight loss, a balanced diet and regular physical activity are still essential.

  1. Zaleska, M., Olszewski, W. L., & Durlik, M. (2017). The effectiveness of intermittent pneumatic compression in long-term therapy of lymphedema of lower limbs. Lymphatic Research and Biology.
  2. Tsai, R. J., Dennis, L. K., Lynch, C. F., Snetselaar, L. G., Zamba, G. K., & Scott-Conner, J. (2015). The risk of developing arm lymphedema among breast cancer survivors: a meta-analysis of treatment factors. Annals of Surgical Oncology.
  3. Ezzo, J., Manheimer, E., & McNeely, M. L. (2015). Manual lymphatic drainage for lymphedema following breast cancer treatment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (5), CD003475.
  4. Foldi, E., & Foldi, M. (2006). Foldi's Textbook of Lymphology: For Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists. Elsevier Health Sciences.
  5. Alitalo, K. (2011). The lymphatic vasculature in disease. Nature Medicine.
  6. Khan, M. H., Victor, F., Rao, B., & Sadick, N. S. (2010). Treatment of cellulite: Part I. Pathophysiology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
  7. Smalls, L. K., Hicks, M., Passeretti, D., Gersin, K., Kitzmiller, W. J., Bakhsh, A., ... & Wickett, R. R. (2005). Effect of weight loss on cellulite: gynoid lypodystrophy. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
  8. Vieira, A. C., & Rezende, R. A. (2015). Is There an Ideal Treatment for Cellulite? Jornal Vascular Brasileiro.
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