This summer I needed a little minor surgery; nothing scary or noteworthy at all. This girlfriend is over 40 and ’tis the season. My most recent round of checkups showed my vehicle service light was blinking — the mechanics determined it was time to pop the hood and take a peek at the engine. Everything went fine, and I was in and out of the surgery center in a couple of hours and home to recover; no drama. So why couldn’t I just heal? For weeks longer than expected, I remained swollen and sore. I followed every instruction to the letter, but still could not bounce back. Finally, my mechanic doctor recommended lymphatic massage to get things moving along, and gave me a contact for an incredible massage therapist, Laura Melissa, who could come to my house for sessions.

Who doesn't want to just open their door and find a massage therapist waiting? My doctor recommended Laura Melissa for a lymphatic drainage massage session.

Who doesn’t want to just open their door and find a massage therapist waiting? My doctor recommended Laura Melissa for a lymphatic drainage massage session.

Laura arrived with all her equipment and set up her massage table in our guest bedroom. Once I was settled in, she turned on some music and I started asking questions. (Yes, I do talk constantly … ) I wanted to understand how this kind of massage could help, and thankfully, Laura was eager to explain. First, she gave me a basic review of the lymphatic system as the secondary pathway to the circulatory system: “This is the body’s disposal method. The lymph system clears away bacteria, cellular debris, excess water, proteins and waste that the circulatory system can’t handle — particles too large for the capillaries of the bloodstream to carry. The ‘garbage’ within interstitial fluid drains along lymph vessels and filters through lymph nodes, acting as a purification center before heading back to the bloodstream for circulation out of the body. Lymph, named from the word ‘limpa’ meaning ‘clear,’ originates in all connective tissue all throughout your body. Lymphoid tissue also creates the white blood cells, which are so important to the immune system.”

Laura set-up her massage table in our guest bedroom and then explained her technique.

Laura set up her massage table in our guest bedroom and then explained her technique.

Here’s the deal: Unlike the circulatory system, the lymph system has no main pump to keep the fluid moving. When the system slows down, manual lymphatic drainage massage helps to detoxify an area, decongesting the tissue and reducing pain as the body relaxes. If tissue becomes damaged in any way, due to surgery or trauma, lymphatic drainage massage gently stimulates the lymphatic system to remove the waste that brought on swelling. (The swelling initially occurs when all those “repair tools” rush into the impacted area.) The faster this happens, the quicker the recovery.

The lymphatic system circulates throughout the body without a central pump. (Image: cnmhealth)

The lymphatic system circulates throughout the body without a central pump. (Image: cnmhealth)

Lymphatic massage relies simply on light pressure that traces along the lymphatic drainage path — quite different from the muscle-kneading of more traditional massage, such as shiatsu or Swedish. The motions are so tender that I felt skeptical about whether or not this was actually going to do anything. I was astonished to see a significant reduction in swelling and feel far less sore after just one session. By about a week after my second session, I had full range of motion back and my soreness had completely disappeared.

Laura, who works mainly through physician referrals, focuses on therapy for injury rehab and postsurgical care. She prefers to wait until at least three days post-op or post-injury before beginning massage therapy, and then another three days before subsequent sessions. It takes about that long for the body to completely process the fluid set in motion during treatment. Drinking water and getting some low-impact exercise, such as walking and yoga, enhances the benefits of the lymphatic massage therapy. There are some acute conditions for which different therapies should be considered, so ask your physician.

Drinking fluids after a massage can aid in flushing out the toxins. (Image: WebMD)

Drinking fluids after a massage can aid in flushing out the toxins. (Image: WebMD)

Laura clarified that a regular massage performed by a well-trained masseuse will also provide lymphatic drainage to some extent. There are lymphatic massages offered at many area professional massage therapist offices. She also mentioned thinking about what might be floating around in your system when you hit that massage table — she has seen clients get woozy from a massage after a night of heavy drinking, or at the tail end of a virus. No matter what types of massage you are seeking, increasing fluid intake afterwards helps to flush out everything brought into circulation.

Are you amazed? I was … and still am.

You can request lymphatic massages from several Atlanta massage therapists if this sounds like what you need. And, you can ask your physician for a referral as well.