For more than a decade, DeeAnna Nagel suffered from a lung condition that left her gasping for breath. Prescribed treatments weren’t helping, but then, a surprisingly simple at-home lymphatic drainage massage worked a miracle.
DeeAnna Nagel, sighed as she waited in yet another doctor’s office. For decades, she’d experienced painful, chronic swelling in her left foot and ankle and she’d been going from doctor to doctor, searching for a cause. “You have primary lymphedema, a condition in which there is a buildup of lymph fluid under the skin,” a vascular specialist finally told her. “There’s no cure, but there’s a treatment that can ease your symptoms.”
There was a time when DeeAnna would have been overjoyed to finally know the cause but, sadly, she already had another, even more debilitating, illness to contend with. In her 30s, DeeAnna had been diagnosed with advanced pulmonary sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder that caused the lymph nodes in her lungs to become inflamed and stiff, making it hard to expel mucus. Even with medication and percussion therapy (which involves clapping on the chest and back to loosen the mucus) she still struggled to breathe. Having to add another treatment for her lymphedema was upsetting, but DeeAnna hoped it would relieve her pain.
DeeAnna began going to a clinic a couple of times a week for lymphatic drainage massage (LDM). During her sessions, a trained physical therapist worked her way up from DeeAnna’s legs through her torso, each arm and even her neck and face, lightly pressing on the skin in an upward motion to get the lymph fluid flowing.
After just a couple of sessions, the swelling in DeeAnna’s foot and ankle went down, relieving her pain. But she noticed something else astonishing: She had a lot of sinus drainage and productive coughing. This is loosening all the fluid in my body, even in my lungs, she realized.
But the sessions were costly and not covered by insurance, so DeeAnna worried she wouldn’t be able to continue. Then she learned she could do LDM herself at home and all she needed was a natural bristle hairbrush or body brush.
Using a baby’s brush, DeeAnna began giving herself home lymphatic massages each morning. Starting at her feet, using slow and gentle strokes on dry skin, DeeAnna brushes up each leg to the top of her thigh, then up her torso along the sternum. She then works her way up each arm, from hand to armpit.
Moving on to her face, she brushes outward from her chin along the jaw and from nose to cheek to ear. Finally, she sweeps down her neck to the right and the left to the lymphatic ducts located above the collarbone.
With each passing week, DeeAnna’s swelling and breathing markedly improved. Today, she no longer takes any medication and hasn’t needed to be percussed for more than five years.
Even her doctor was amazed. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he told her enthusiastically.
DeeAnna, who is now a licensed therapist, a certified aromatherapist and wellness coach, has no intention of stopping her massages. “At 57, I feel better than ever!” she beams. “I’m finally able to live and enjoy my life — and breathe freely!”
3 Health Perks of Lymph Massage
- It reduces bloat! Your lymphatic system contains twice the fluid as your bloodstream, but doesn’t have a pump (like your heart) to keep those fluids in motion, resulting in puffiness when fluids stagnate. Thankfully, a study in the journal Lymphology reveals that gentle lymph massage promotes this circulation, cutting bloat by 40 percent.
- It slashes stress! Just one lymph massage can reduce levels of cortisol by 44 percent and cut fatigue up to 80%, report scientists in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. The result: A single session can calm frazzled nerves for up to 48 hours.
- It tames pain! Scientists say regular lymph massages using a dry brush ($11, Amazon) calm overactive pain nerves and move pain-triggering inflammatory wastes out of muscles, joints and other tissues — a process that Penn State University researchers say eases pain and stiffness for up to 80 percent of women.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.