Gary Tanchak, DC is a Chiropractor that takes a comprehensive approach to spinal and extremity injuries. He takes the entire body’s biomechanics as well as lifestyle into account when addressing injury, in order to help rid the patient of their pain and keep it from coming back in the future. Dr. Tanchak addresses patient’s injuries through a combination of passive modalities, such as spinal and extremity manipulations, Active Release Technique, and non-surgical spinal decompression.
As massage guns continue to gain popularity, their number of uses also increases. One popular question is: can you use a massage gun for lymphatic drainage? We think yes, but be sure to keep reading for all of the important details and caveats.
In this article we break down the potential benefits, precautions, and best device options if you’re considering using your massage gun for lymphatic drainage.
In addition to our content being written by experts, we extensively test all devices that we recommend, and have a clear review process established.
You should know that research is still limited on massage guns, so many ideas will still need testing and vetting. However, we have reviewed several resources to ensure we’re providing the most reliable information.
This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. We encourage you to check with your medical doctor before using any of the advice given here.
What is Lymphatic Drainage?
Lymphatic drainage refers to clearing built-up lymph fluid from a site of the body and returning them to the lymphatic system.
Lymph fluid is a clear-to-white fluid that runs through the lymphatic system and is made up of important regulators in your body that are not carried through the bloodstream, most notably white blood cells and important proteins (1).
Lymph nodes are small sites in the body responsible for filtering lymph fluid and producing new white blood cells. When the body is fighting infection or other certain diseases, lymph nodes can become swollen due to congestion or inflammation.
More commonly, lymph fluid may build up in soft tissue of the body due to a blockage in the lymphatic system – this is known aslymphedema. Lymphedema has a number of causes, most commonly due to damage of the lymphatic system during cancer treatment, and is managed using a variety of lymphatic drainage techniques.
There are many methods of lymphatic drainage, and a common treatment approach is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) (2).
Compression – layered bandages or fitted garments to reduce swelling.
Specific exercise – using muscle to help push lymph out of the area.
Skin care – keeping skin clean and moisturized to prevent infection.
Self-care management – learning proper care, protection, and weight management.
Among the many treatment approaches for lymphatic drainage, one of the most common is massage.
Does Massage Help with Lymphatic Drainage?
Many people use massage as a first-line lymphatic drainage method, and specialized massage therapy is a commonly prescribed treatment for lymphedema.
Different types of lymphatic drainage massage are thought to reduce swelling by improving circulation of lymph fluid. This treatment is usually delivered by a licensed physical therapist or massage therapist with specialty training related to lymphedema management.
But does massage help with lymphatic drainage?
The truth is, the effects of manual lymphatic drainage and traditional massage are unclear based on current research.
While some studies show significant lymphedema volume reduction and improved quality of life after treatment, others show a little-to-no change in status (3).
Is Massage Gun Good for Lymphatic Drainage?
Massage guns are a very popular method for getting a good massage at home, and many people are using their massage guns for lymphatic drainage.
Based on the research, it’s unclear how effective manual massage therapy is for reducing lymphedema.
However, in order to ensure best results, it’s important to mimic the methods that show positive results as closely as possible.
This means that you’ll need to pay attention to which massage gun you’re using, and how you use it.
How to Use Massage Gun for Lymphatic Drainage
Because massage for lymphatic drainage is usually performed very gently, we recommend using a softer attachment for your massage device. These are usually the attachments made of foam instead of hard plastic.
If you know that it is safe to use your massage gun, follow these basic steps for best results:
How to Use Massage Gun for Lymphatic Drainage – Basic Steps
Hold your massage gun and turn it on, setting it to low speed.
Gently apply the head of your massager over the desired area at a straight angle (not slanted) and slowly apply pressure until a light intensity is reached. It should be completely pain-free.
Slowly move the head around the area while trying to maintain consistent pressure and a straight angle. Small circles are an effective way to evenly cover ground.
Focus on one area of the body for 1-2 minutes. Do not exceed this amount of time until you are able to wait and assess if your body responds well (no bruising or increased swelling).
Adjust device intensity based on results and comfort at each body area. Do not push into pain!
Keep in mind that most massage guns are more aggressive than the most researched lymphatic drainage techniques, so being gentle should be your first priority.
Soft tissue with lymphedema can be sensitive, which means that you should use a much lower intensity than you would for a deep-tissue massage, which is aimed at relaxing your muscles.
Because lymphatic drainage massage focuses on applying lighter pressure over the skin, we don’t think there’s any need for a powerful massage gun.
This means that you may be able to avoid purchasing a high-amplitude gun, which is typically better suited for a deep-tissue massage (and is often more expensive).
Amplitude describes the distance traveled by a massage head during each percussion. Devices with higher amplitude tend to have lower percussion speed, and vice versa.
For lymphatic drainage massage gun, we recommend a device with lower amplitude and higher speed. In other words, a less punchy, more vibrational type of device.
Ekrin 365 – Best Lymphatic Drainage Massage Gun
Our first-hand experience with the Ekrin 365, a recent release from a young and aspiring American brand, Ekrin, left us with no doubt that it’s our top pick for lymphatic drainage. Here’s why…
When we tested the Ekrin 365, we noticed that its moderate 10mm amplitude offered a slightly more vibrational feel rather than being purely percussive. This characteristic allowed it to reach an impressive top speed of 3200 RPM (and 2000 RPM at its lowest setting).
To give perspective, it is considerably higher compared to the Theragun models that peak at 2400 RPM due to their high, ‘punchy’ amplitude of 16mm.
The Ekrin 365 also impressed us with its stall force of ~40lbs. This indicates the amount of force necessary to stall the device, and suggests that it can effectively massage larger muscle groups on your body, though you’ll likely need to apply some extra pressure to get results.
What this also means is that with the decent stall force, the 365 won’t be slowing down percussions when you apply some decent pressure. This is what happens when you use cheap devices, but not with this one. It will take a considerable amount of pressure to stall this Ekrin completely.
We found all Ekrin devices, including the 365, feature an angled handle which significantly enhances ergonomics and reduces wrist strain during use. The longer and thinner handle was a bonus, making it easier to reach our back areas and providing a comfortable grip for those with smaller hands.
Weighing only 1.7lbs., the Ekrin 365 is lightweight and feels premium in hand. We were impressed by its lifetime warranty, a rare offering among massage gun companies, adding an extra level of assurance to our recommendation.
Ekrin 365 retails for $179.99 but you can use the MGA20 coupon to buy it for only $143.99, which is 20% less. Get your Ekrin 365 massager here.
We gave the D9 Elite from Sportneer a spin, and found it to be a robust massage gun for lymphatic drainage. This device, although more affordable than the Ekrin 365, manages to match it in speed, earning its spot as a reliable option for lymphatic drainage.
The Sportneer Elite, much like the Ekrin 365, boasts an angled handle design. It has the added advantage of operating at a lower noise level, making for a peaceful massage experience.
The grip is comfortable and firm, and while the device is reasonably light at 2.2lbs, it is heavier by 8oz. than the 365 model we’ve discussed above.
It does come with six attachments to give you more options when using your massage gun for lymphatic drainage. However, the quality of those attachments is so-so at best. All of them are hard-plastic heads.
It features 6 speeds, comes with the wide percussion range (1300-3200). So, on its top speed, it actually matches the Ekrin above, but it can rev slower, to give you a smooth, non-aggressive massage on low speeds. This is what makes this device an appropriate massage gun for lymphatic drainage as well.
While the Sportneer gun may not feel as high-end as the Ekrin 365, and it doesn’t come with the security of a lifetime warranty, its affordability makes it a standout. We found it to be a cost-effective alternative that doesn’t compromise on performance, particularly for lymphatic drainage..
It currently retails for $97.49 but you can apply the AFDKOF promo code at checkout to get 10% off. You will then only pay $82.87. Buy it at sportneer.com.
Theragun for Lymphatic Drainage
Theragun basically started the massage gun industry, and they have many high-end device options for doing percussive massage therapy at home.
If you can afford their premium price, they are a serious contender for at-home massage. However, while Theragun percussion devices are well-suited for almost any job, you should know that they are high-amplitude devices (16mm) and can feel a bit aggressive (punchy).
In our opinion, you don’t need necessarily need a high-amplitude device for lymphatic drainage, and using a lower-amplitude device with higher intensity (speed), like Ekrin 365, might be more than adequate.
But don’t get us wrong, all Theragun massagers are versatile and effective for getting a good massage.
We simply think that the high amplitude of Theragun devices makes them better choice for deeper massage on big muscle groups. They also rev a little bit slower than devices with lower amplitude (bigger movements means slower speeds).
Which Theragun is Best for Lymphatic Drainage?
Theragun products vary slightly between each model, and the largest difference between their higher-end models (Prime, Elite, and PRO) is their stall force, which is the maximum amount of force produced by the massage gun head before stalling.
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The higher-end Theragun models (Elite and PRO) might feel too powerful for your lymphatic drainage needs, meaning their stall force is much higher than needed to get the job done.
Also, some of the features on the expensive PRO, like the adjustable arm, won’t get as much use since lymphatic drainage isn’t typically performed on the back.
Remember, because the best lymphatic drainage results are seen with softer touch, your best bet is to save some of your resources on other components of care like skin care and other forms of self care.
Another solution to soften the hard hits from the Theragun device could be using their Supersoft™ attachment (pictured above). It comes handy for those who want a very delicate treatment.
The attachment comes included with the Pro model, but you can also buy it separately and it will work well with the Prime and/or mini.
What About Downsides to Theragun?
The most noteworthy downside to the Theragun brand is their price. While they offer a lot of high-end features like industry-leading stall force and amplitude, they’re also some of the most expensive options in the massage gun industry today.
Theragun started a revolution, but their creativity is constantly being challenged by the competition. As a result, there are many less-expensive options with similar, or sometimes better offerings.
In terms of warranty, Theragun doesn’t offer a big one. You can get a one-year warranty with most models, and a two-year warranty with the PRO model (which is $600).
If you’re hoping to get multiple attachment options or a carrying case, be sure to spend a little extra on the Elite model, since the more affordable models don’t include all of these features.
As an alternative option, you can always get a less expensive model and purchase extras a la carte.
Massage Gun for Lymphatic Drainage: Bottom Line
Hopefully this article helps in answering the question: can you use a massage gun for lymphatic drainage?
The reality is that there just isn’t enough research yet to know exactly how massage gun use compares to traditional manual lymphatic drainage. That said, your massage gun (when used safely) might be a great addition to a comprehensive lymphatic drainage regimen.
If you’re still unsure about using your massage gun for lymphatic drainage, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a licensed lymphedema specialist who can answer all of your questions on lymphedema and lymphatic drainage.
This, along with the help of your trusted medical doctor, should help you get the best outcomes for your lymphatic drainage.
Thompson, B., Gaitatzis, K., Janse de Jonge, X., Blackwell, R., & Koelmeyer, L. A. (2021). Manual lymphatic drainage treatment for lymphedema: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of cancer survivorship: research and practice, 15(2), 244–258. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11764-020-00928-1 Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32803533/
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Post Update History
Here's a quick rundown of all the tweaks and edits we've made to this article to keep it accurate and up-to-date!
Current version last updated on:
May 16, 2023Added links to external resources; minor edits and corrections (By: Luke)
February 7, 2023Added more information on Theragun devices(By: Luke)
November 14, 2023Replaced Addsfit Max with Sportneer Elite D9, due to Addsfit being no longer in sale. (By: Luke)
Alex Stone is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA). He currently practices orthopedics in Bellevue Washington and manages an online health coaching business via social media (@dr.alexstone). He is passionate about health science education and general health/wellness optimization. Read more →
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