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From Mystery to Mastery: Demystifying Lymphatic Drainage Massage

*This information was gleaned from The Book of Lymph by Lisa Levitt Gainsley, along with personal experience and conversations with the experts listed.

Kirsten Fritz and was provided by Kirsten Fritz

Kirsten Fritz and was provided by Kirsten Fritz

Thankfully, our understanding of health is more holistic than ever before. We’re no longer fixated on the scale and removing entire food groups from our diets and our homes. Rather, we’re learning to assess our bodies’ individual needs and how we really feel. We’re addressing our mental health, our spiritual health, our gut health, and our skin health, and we know they’re all interconnected. If you’re like me, and you’ve tried just about all of the conventional methods only to come away with more problems, more questions, and fewer answers, Lymphatic Drainage Massage may be the missing link for you to find true vitality and begin to live fully. 

When I was first intuitively drawn to this concept, I quickly found that its subtlety and technicality are perhaps to blame for it not having the widespread popularity that deep tissue and chiropractic adjustment enjoy. Many practitioners struggle to explain what lymph is and how it works and can only point to its undeniable impact on health. As always, I GOT YOU FAM. I’ve done the research, I’ve gone into the field and tried countless Lymphatic Drainage Massages (rough life, right?) in order to demystify this process and point you all in the right direction. 

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Alexis Kneale, taken by Becca Daniels

Alexis Kneale, taken by Becca Daniels

What is Lymph?

Before diving into what Lymphatic Drainage Massage really is and how it improves your Lymph System, we must first define and explain the lymph system. The word lymph comes from Lympha, the Greek word for water, and the name of the ancient Roman deity who embodied water’s divinity. 

Lisa Levitt Gainsley (perhaps the most well-known expert in the field), in her book The Book of Lymph, describes the Lymphatic System as an “invisible system that is continually working beneath the surface and is connected to every inch of our body, tidying up and sending vitality and support to ensure that we are the most radiant and healthiest version of ourselves.”

Your Lymphatic System, the body’s second and lesser-known circulatory system, is integral to several of your body’s vital functions. It supports the immune system by producing white blood cells, helps the digestive system by absorbing fat and fatty acids from the gut and delivering them to the bloodstream for fuel, removes toxins and bacteria, and balances the fluids in your body to prevent swelling. 

Lymphatic vessels, capillaries, and ducts run throughout the entire body, carrying fluids from your body’s cells to the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes, located in the head, neck, armpits, sternum, abdomen, the crease at the top of your thighs, your elbow creases, and behind your knees, then eradicate toxins and recirculate clean fluid. About 6 pints of clean fluid is returned to your bloodstream each day! This mighty network lies just below the skin, thus only a gentle touch is required to stimulate the Lymphatic System. 

Most of us are unaware of our Lymphatic System until we’re sick and notice inflammation in our lymph nodes (this is caused by extra white blood cells fighting infection). 

Unlike the circulatory system, the Lymphatic System has no pump. Your Lymphatic Fluid moves toward the heart and is propelled by breath, skeletal contractions, and pulsing arteries. For this reason, breathwork, exercise, and massage are vital to maintaining overall wellness. 

How Does Lymphatic Drainage Massage Work?

Also known as Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Lymphatic Drainage Massage is a gentle form of massage that encourages the movement of lymph fluids and the drainage of lymph nodes.

Rynell Eckstein, taken by Marina Wells

Generally, the goal is to help your lymphatic system do the important work of purifying lymphatic fluid and recirculating clean fluid. 

If you’re used to conventional massage techniques, you may be surprised by how light the lymphatic drainage technique is and wonder if it accomplishes anything. The pressure has been described as slightly more than a feather. Your practitioner will begin (and likely end) by massaging your lymph nodes. This sends the signal to your body that toxins are about to be flushed out. It is sometimes referred to as “clearing the drains” to prepare the lymph nodes for lymphatic fluid. Some practitioners also end by massaging the lymph nodes. 

Lymphatic Drainage Massage is always performed in one direction, toward the heart. The entire body (arms, legs, abdomen, and face) are worked in a Lymphatic Drainage Massage. There are four types of Lymphatic Drainage Massage: Vodder, Foldi, Casley-Smith, and Leduc. All vary only slightly and use the signature soft touch and start with the lymph nodes. 

What Can Lymphatic Drainage Massage do for you?

Now that we’ve defined and described the Lymphatic System, the many benefits of maintaining this mighty network will come as no surprise. Lymphatic well-being boosts your immunity, your skin, your digestion, your energy, your mental clarity, and even your appearance. 

Although the major medical issues that call for Lymphatic Drainage Massage are Lymphedema, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Venous Insufficiency, its applications are much more widespread. Improper lymph flow, is increasingly linked to common, mystery ailments such as aches and pains, bloating, digestive issues, fatigue, eczema, constipation, and unexplained weight gain. 

If you experience any of the following symptoms, your lymphatic system may need some attention: (Levitt Gainsley compiled this list in The Book of Lymph):

  • Acne and skin breakoutsAllergies
  • Bloating and water retention
  • Blood clots
  • Brain fog
  • Bronchitis
  • Chemical pollutants
  • Chronic earaches/clogged ears
  • Constipation
  • Cuts slow to heal
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Digestive issues
  • Edema
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Fibroids/cysts
  • Headaches
  • Hormone imbalances, including cortisol, PMS, perimenopause, menopause
  • Inflamed tonsils
  • Itchy skin/eczema/rashes
  • Kidney disease
  • Lymphedema
  • Muscle stiffness/joint pain/arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Pain or discomfort while exercising
  • Puffiness in face and neck
  • Scar tissue
  • Sinus congestion and infections
  • Sore throats
  • Stress
  • Swelling of joints; swelling of extremities on airplanes
  • Upper respiratory issues

A year ago, I was drawn to Lymphatic Drainage Massage while battling mysterious gut and skin issues, unexplained fatigue, hormone imbalances, and ear/throat pain. I noticed an immediate decrease in abdominal pain and an improvement in all of the above after regular sessions. 


I highly recommend the following massage therapists. Each takes a slightly different approach to supporting the Lymphatic System. I appreciate all for their different focus and strengths and know you’ll find the right professional for your body and its unique needs. 

Lymphatic System

Alexis Kneale, of Mountain View Chiropractic (in Post Falls, ID): Alexis is young but wise beyond her years. When you enter her treatment room, you will be immediately struck by her presence and the calm that rushes over you. She provides not just an incredible massage but true compassion.

Kirsten Fritz, of K. Fritz Therapeutic Bodywork (in Coeur d’Alene, ID): Kirsten is trained in the Vodder method and spent time implementing this training at the OHSU transfusion clinic and at the Knight Cancer Institute. As someone who is missing lymph nodes and prone to lymphedema, she is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about applying Lymphatic Drainage Massage. Kirsten also offers Lymphatic Drainage training to both individuals and practitioners. 

If you are so inclined, Kirsten is collecting donations to provide much-needed lymphatic drainage massages for oncology patients who are struggling with the financial burden of other treatments. Venmo: CancermassageCDA under Oncology Bodywork by K Fritz. PayPal: kfritzmassage

Rynell Eckstein, taken by Teresa Ragan

Rynell Eckstein, taken by Teresa Ragan

Rynell Eckstein, of Beauty at the Lake (in Coeur d’Alene, ID) and Bodywork by Rynell (in Post Falls, ID): Rynell is passionate about using massage to help the body heal, and I can say that she has absolutely helped mine to do so. She brings a quiet confidence to her sessions and all of her interactions. She is relatable and professional and leaves you feeling loved and valued. 

Sherilyn Long, taken by Luba Wold

Sherilyn Long, taken by Luba Wold

Sherilyn Long of Idaho Therapeutic Massage (in Hayden, ID): Along with being a talented Massage Therapist, Sherilyn is a Master Herbalist, Life Coach, and Hypnotherapist. She is incredibly intuitive in incorporating herbal healing into each session and was the first person to help me link my emotional/spiritual well-being to my physical healing. 

Sydney Ciampini, of SC Beauty Therapy (in Spokane, WA): Sydney specializes in using Lymphatic Drainage Massage for body sculpting and post surgery care. She helps her clients to boost their wellbeing, support their metabolisms, and sculpt their bodies. 

Ty Rockwell of Coeur d’Alene Healing Arts (in Coeur d’Alene, ID): Ty has been a Massage Therapist for 18 years and provides an almost exhaustive list of modalities. He is incredibly knowledgeable about the human body and offers Coeur d’Alene’s only full JOOVV Red Light Therapy set up!                                                                        

Unlock the Secrets of Lymphatic Drainage Massage: Your Path to True Vitality

The mechanics and implications of the lymphatic system are vast, so I have merely provided a lay person’s introduction to the topic. I hope that this sparked some interest, demystified some confusion, and nfilled in a gap or two in your understanding of your body and any health issues you may be wrestling with. Most importantly, I hope you’ll become more aware of your Lymphatic System and try out a Lymphatic Drainage Massage.

Bailey Bowerman

Bailey is a self-proclaimed recovering attorney and late bloomer. She loves words, rest, and hyping entrepreneurs and creatives. She lives in Idaho with her husband and is decidedly and unapologetically NOT outdoorsy.


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