Common Side Effects of Lymphatic Massage
Written by Joel Phillips
Published on Nov 12, 2023

Lymphatic drainage massage, also known as manual lymphatic drainage, is a gentle form of massage used to relieve painful swelling in the arms and legs caused by lymphedema (build up of lymph), which can happen when the lymphatic system isn’t working properly.

Some of the intended benefits of lymphatic drainage massage include reduced swelling and inflammation, enhanced immune system function, and relaxation and stress relief. However, lymphatic massage also has some unintended side effects.

Common Side Effects of Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic massage is not without its side effects. These effects are generally mild and temporary, but they are significant as they indicate how the body is responding to the treatment.

  1. Fatigue and Drowsiness
    Fatigue and drowsiness are among the most common responses to lymphatic massage. This sensation of tiredness stems from the profound relaxation that the massage induces, which can slow down bodily functions, leading to a state of lethargy. Additionally, as the body processes and removes toxins released during the massage, this detoxification process can temporarily sap energy levels. It’s usually a benign side effect, indicating the body’s natural healing response. To manage this, clients are advised to rest and allow their body to recover post-massage, ensuring that these feelings of fatigue are short-lived.
  2. Increased Urination and Thirst
    The process of lymphatic drainage effectively mobilizes fluids throughout the body, leading to an increase in urine production as the body attempts to expel these fluids. This diuretic effect is a direct result of the body’s natural detoxification process being accelerated. Accompanying this increased urination is often an increased sense of thirst. Drinking plenty of water before and after the massage can help manage these symptoms, aiding in the efficient flushing out of toxins and maintaining hydration levels.
  3. Temporary Swelling
    Some individuals may experience temporary swelling or puffiness post-massage. This occurs as the lymphatic fluid is rerouted or mobilized within the body, sometimes leading to localized fluid buildup. Although it might be uncomfortable, this swelling is usually harmless and resolves within a few hours to a day. Elevating the affected limb and staying hydrated can help alleviate this side effect. It’s a transient response and a sign that the lymphatic system is actively processing and draining the fluids.
  4. Nausea
    Nausea following a lymphatic massage is typically a result of the body’s reaction to the release of toxins from the tissues. As the lymphatic system works to eliminate these toxins, the sudden influx can momentarily overwhelm the body, leading to feelings of nausea. This side effect is generally mild and can be mitigated by ensuring adequate hydration and resting after the session. Eating a light meal before undergoing lymphatic massage can also help in minimizing this response.
  5. Changes in Digestion
    The lymphatic system plays a significant role in the immune function and is closely connected to the digestive system. As such, stimulating the lymphatics can sometimes impact digestive processes, leading to alterations in bowel movements or mild digestive discomfort. These changes are usually a sign of the body adjusting to the enhanced lymphatic activity and are typically short-lived. Eating light meals before the massage and staying hydrated can help manage these digestive changes.

Understanding the risks associated with pre-existing health conditions

Individuals with pre-existing health conditions should be cautious when considering lymphatic massage. Certain health conditions can increase the risk of developing complications from lymphatic massage. Some of these conditions include:

  • Inflammatory disorders
  • Venous conditions
  • Obesity
  • Immobility
  • An existing problem with the lymphatic system (underlying primary lymphoedema)

It is important to discuss any pre-existing health conditions with a healthcare professional before scheduling a lymphatic massage. They can provide guidance on whether lymphatic massage is safe and appropriate for the individual.

In some cases, individuals with pre-existing health conditions may still be able to receive lymphatic massage with modifications. For example, if an individual has obesity, the massage therapist may need to adjust the pressure and technique used during the massage to avoid causing discomfort or injury.

It is also important to monitor for any adverse reactions or complications following the massage. If an individual experiences any unusual symptoms, such as increased swelling or pain, they should seek medical attention immediately.

Precautions and Contraindications

Lymphatic massage is generally considered safe, but there are some situations where it should be avoided. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before receiving lymphatic massage, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

Situations where lymphatic massage should be avoided

  • Acute inflammation: Lymphatic massage should not be performed on areas of the body that are acutely inflamed. This includes areas affected by cellulitis, which is a bacterial skin infection that can cause redness, swelling, and pain. Lymphatic massage can spread the infection and make it worse.
  • Cancer: People with cancer should avoid lymphatic massage, especially if they are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Lymphatic massage can stimulate the lymphatic system, which can potentially spread cancer cells throughout the body.
  • Heart problems: People with congestive heart failure or other heart problems should avoid lymphatic massage. Lymphatic massage can increase blood flow and put additional strain on the heart, which can be dangerous for people with heart problems.
  • Blood clots: People with blood clots or a history of blood clots should avoid lymphatic massage. Lymphatic massage can dislodge blood clots and cause them to travel to other parts of the body, which can be life-threatening.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women should avoid lymphatic massage, especially during the first trimester. Lymphatic massage can stimulate the uterus and potentially cause a miscarriage.
  • Skin problems: People with skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis should avoid lymphatic massage. Lymphatic massage can irritate the skin and make these conditions worse.

It is important to note that lymphatic massage should only be performed by a trained professional. If you have any concerns or questions about lymphatic massage, consult with a healthcare professional before receiving treatment.

Managing Side Effects After Lymphatic Massage

After receiving a lymphatic massage, it is normal to experience some side effects. These side effects are typically mild and short-lived, but it is important to manage them properly to ensure a comfortable recovery.

One of the most common side effects of lymphatic massage is fatigue. This is because the massage stimulates the lymphatic system, which can be tiring for the body. To manage fatigue, it is recommended to rest and avoid strenuous activity for a few hours after the massage. Drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy meal can also help to boost energy levels.

Another common side effect is skin breakout. This is because the massage can release toxins from the body, which can cause a temporary skin reaction. To manage skin breakout, it is recommended to avoid using heavy creams or lotions on the skin for a few hours after the massage. Instead, use a gentle, non-comedogenic moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated.

Some people may also experience soreness or tenderness in the areas that were massaged. To manage this, it is recommended to apply a cold compress to the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day. This can help to reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.

It is important to note that while these side effects are normal, if they persist for more than a few days or are severe, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional. Overall, managing side effects after lymphatic massage is relatively simple and can help to ensure a comfortable and effective recovery.

Joel Phillips

As a passionate and genuinely caring therapist, I take immense joy in assisting a diverse range of clients with their unique needs. With a comprehensive background in various massage therapies, corrective exercises, and lifestyle alteration techniques, I am committed to helping you achieve your highest level of health.