There’s no question that lymphatic drainage talk is trending. It’s a pity it has taken us as a modern society so long to understand this vital part of our body’s detoxification process, and for many of us, this understanding stops at dry brushing.
While dry brushing is a great way to get some things moving and, of course, exfoliate the skin pre-shower for an energizing boost, our lymphatic system is incredibly complex. Lisa Gainsley is a veteran lymphatic therapist, educator, and advocate whose first book, The Book of Lymph: Self-Care Practices to Enhance Immunity, Health, and Beauty, blew our minds when it comes to a deeper understanding of this system. We learned it’s about more than just our face, neck, and armpits—there are glands and vessels everywhere, and different massage routines we can do to address specific concerns. We thought we’d start with hangovers.
“Hangovers are your body’s way of dealing with alcohol withdrawal,” Gainsely starts. “And if you’re someone who loves cocktails, you might also be dealing with side effects from all the sugar in those drinks too.” All in favor say aye…
“Lymphatic drainage and lymphatic self-massage can be extremely helpful in accelerating the detoxification process, because, after all, it’s your lymphatic system’s job is to clear out excess toxins from your tissues. Your lymphatic system is responsible for clearing, purifying, and eliminating the excess waste and toxins that accumulate in the body. It runs like rivers all throughout your body—it’s twice as vast as your blood network, only it doesn’t have a central pump to move it. It depends on muscle movements, deep breathing, and yes, lymphatic drainage massage, to propel viruses, toxins, and bacteria to lymph nodes where the waste is purified by your immune cells so your lymph can return it to your bloodstream for recirculation.
You have lymph vessels in your gut that serve as the first line of defense against foodborne illness and absorb fat in your gut and return it to your venous system for fuel. Seventy percent of your immune system is within the lymph system in your gut. You also have lymph vessels in your brain (called the glymphatic system) that work with your cerebral spinal fluid when you sleep to remove amyloid plaque that’s indicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, and long COVID brain fog.
Because the lymph system is connected to every bodily system, by working on your lymph system, you will positively affect every other system in your body—clearing out excess waste and toxins so you can enjoy optimal health.
Remember that detoxifying is at the root of eliminating a hangover.
How many times have you heard that one of the best ways to get rid of a hangover is to sweat? That’s because sweating helps flush toxins from your body and increases your blood flow.
In addition, when you drink too much alcohol, it can limit your stomach’s ability to destroy harmful bacteria there, allowing it to enter your upper small intestine. Lymphatically, that can impair the mucus cells that protect your stomach wall from being damaged by acid and digestive enzymes, causing inflammation. This is a reason why your stomach becomes bloated after too many glasses of wine or martinis.
Working with your lymphatic system is designed to aid your recovery, get rid of a hangover headache, quell inflammation, restore your vibrancy, and make you feel brighter.
You can start massaging yourself right after drinking a glass of wine during a dinner party (this is great if you’re someone who gets a sore throat when drinking wine). You can massage yourself the next day after drinking to help clear brain fog, stomach distress, bloating, and headaches that come with alcohol consumption.
Headaches go hand in hand with hangovers, and lymphatic self-massage can help alleviate those symptoms too.
Because the liver is involved in processing alcohol and is also susceptible to inflammation with prolonged alcohol use, I recommend massaging your abdomen if you feel bloated the next day. I’ve shared some simple self-care techniques to release the toxic load from your liver.”
Gainsley’s video demonstrates how to reduce bloating and inflammation, restore stomach acidity balance, and improve metabolism. She also shares a face massage for eye puffiness, neck tension, and sore throat and a scalp massage to alleviate headaches. You can follow along from this list as well:
1. Massage the main lymph nodes at the base of your neck (supraclavicular lymph nodes). Press your fingertips down into the hollows above your collarbone. Make a J motion as you press lightly down.
2. Massage from your ear to your neck—the lymph pathway of drainage to clear lymph fluid in the face to reduce puffiness in your face and eyes after drinking.
3. Massage around the ears—you have a lot of lymph nodes around the ears. Working here will help clear the path for inflammation in the face and reduce sore throats and ear congestion.
4. Back of your neck, aka the occiput—where your head meets the cervical spine. Often people get tension here after drinking and sleeping poorly.
5. Stretch your neck—chin to shoulder to reduce neck tension.
6. Brushstrokes on face to stimulate lymph fluid drainage pattern in the face to reduce face and eye puffiness.
7. Scalp massage to reduce headaches.
8. Massage around the temples to reduce headaches.
9. Massage around eyes to reduce eye puffiness from drinking.
10. Massage around your ears again to move fluid out of the face.
11. Massage down your neck again to remove fluid.
12. Neck stretches again to release muscle tension that can impede lymph flow.
13. Massage your abdomen to reduce inflammation and bloating from drinking. This will support the liver, alleviate hangovers, balance stomach acidity, and improve metabolism.