Under Pressure: The Return of Lymphatic Drainage

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While massage takes center stage in most spas, manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is becoming increasingly popular and finally getting the attention it deserves. Developed by Emil and Estrid Vodder in France in 1932, it works to improve lymph flow and remove toxins and waste from the tissues. Lymph is the fluid, made up of infection-fighting white blood cells, that flows through the lymphatic system. “In Ayurveda, the lymphatic system is seen as one of the most important systems in our bodies, as it is responsible for transporting fluid and carrying out toxicity,” says Michelle Ranavat, founder of Ranavat Botanics. “The buildup of these fluids can cause swelling and even make you more prone to a virus. This is because the body relies on fresh white blood cells, which are delivered through the lymphatic system, to fight off infection.”

According to Anne Bramham, founder of the Advanced Spa Therapy Education Certification Council (ASTECC) and an instructor for the Dr. Vodder School of North America, MLD helps increase drainage, which works to remove toxins from the tissues and improve delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells; boost immunity; quiet the sympathetic nervous system, which encourages relaxation; and reduce pain by accelerating the healing response. With more and more spa-goers looking to reduce inflammation and detoxify their bodies, MLD is a treatment whose time has come. 

It should come as no surprise when you consider the fact that self-care is on the rise, and people are searching for therapies that promote overall wellbeing. “I think people are really diving deep into holistic wellness,” says Ranavat. “There is a much better understanding that taking care of our bodies on the inside is directly correlated to beauty on the outside.” MLD has also withstood the test of time and tackles many of the issues that spa-goers are facing these days. “Clients are becoming more and more aware of the pollutants they are exposed to in daily life, and they simply want to counteract the hazards of environmental toxins,” says Bramham. “Inflammation is known to be a major contributor of aging. By removing the inflammation, we effectively slow down the aging process.” According to her, MLD is also extremely effective at addressing symptoms caused by daily stress, such as headache, jaw tension, and neck pain. 

Unfortunately, not all lymphatic drainage treatments are created equally. It all comes down to training, says Bramham. Like the MLD name specifies, manual refers to it being a hands-on treatment. However, lymphatic drainage is marketed in many forms these days, even with the use of machines. Lymphatic drainage massage, for example, has become a somewhat generic reference that could mean MLD or a variation of the therapy. “Some trainings even utilize deep pressure, which indicates there is absolutely no understanding of the vital importance and workings of the lymph system,” says Bramham. Although purists may lament the confusion surrounding the therapy, the fact that lymphatic drainage is creating a buzz in the industry is a positive development, as it presents an opportunity to educate both spa professionals and spa-goers on the role the lymphatic system plays in contributing to overall health and wellbeing.

At HigherDose (multiple locations), spa-goers can experience Lymphatic Drainage ($285, 60 minutes), an experience involving 25 minutes in an infrared sauna while enveloped in a magnesium wrap followed by 30 minutes of lymphatic drainage bodywork. The treatment is designed to decrease the appearance of cellulite and reduce swelling and water retention.  

The body isn’t the only area that can benefit from lymphatic massage. So, too, can the face. “Lymphatic drainage massage can be quite wonderful for the skin,” says Shadoh Punnapuzha, founder of Taïla Skincare. “Increased circulation allows for renewal of the cells and helps to boost collagen production. Many times, blockages in the nodes can lead to acne, increased sebum levels, and blocked pores.”

According to Ildi Pekar, a skincare therapist and founder of Ildi Pekar Skin Care, it can help with puffiness, dark circles, dullness, irritation, and even fine lines. At Ildi Pekar Wellness Studio (New York City), spa-goers can opt for the Lymph-Flow Facial ($295, 60 minutes) in which the esthetician performs lymphatic drainage massage on the face and décolleté. “Our lymphatic drainage system transports white blood cells, oxygen, and nutrition to the tissues,” says Pekar. “Many of us don’t realize the importance of lymphatic stimulation.” The benefits of lymphatic drainage can also be achieved with the use of skincare tools, such as gua sha, jade rollers, and kansa wands. According to Ranavat, a kansa wand can be used to help release tension and remove any blockages in the lymphatic system. 

Inflammation, a common concern, is the body’s immune response to irritants. Fortunately, lymphatic massage is ideal for people wanting to experience its detoxifying benefits. “Over the years, I have seen clients who have suffered from rosacea, acne, sleep disorders, digestive issues, chemical poisoning, and a host of common ailments respond positively after just a few MLD treatments,” says Bramham. However, to benefit beyond the soothing sensations of a good massage, it is important to ensure that the therapist performing the treatment is trained correctly and has the proper certifications, says Bramham. “MLD is deeply relaxing and regenerative,” she says. “It is not invasive, and it never causes bruising. It is a precise, light-touch technique that induces deep, restorative relaxation and an overall sense of wellbeing.”

As interest continues to grow, so, too, will the knowledge of what this therapy can do.


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