Image Source: Getty
I've suffered with endometriosis-related symptoms for seven years, and in that time, I've had my fair share of challenges. I've been to countless doctors and hospitals. I've been prescribed plenty of painkillers. I've been misdiagnosed many, many times. I've been recommended medication that induces early menopause at age 21. I've been told by a doctor that having a baby helps.
To ease the discomfort I experience on a regular basis, I've tried acupuncture, herbal medicine, massages, diets, and numerous types of exercise. I'm also extremely well-acquainted with my hot water bottles (yes, I have more than one). Now, I'm aware of my privilege in being able to try different treatments and having a great support network (my mum has accompanied me to every single doctor's appointment). And while I know that my health problems could always be worse, there's no denying that endometriosis can be a f*cking nightmare
All of this is what led to me spend a random Tuesday afternoon laying practically naked across my flatmate's bed, towels sprawled across the sheets, and a stranger (albeit an extremely friendly one) carefully massaging my body. Completely normal, right?
This was far from a woo-woo massage in the pursuit of relaxation. I was trying out a lymphatic drainage massage (LDM) from Flavia Morellato — a registered lymphatic drainage specialist loved by many celebrities and with a schedule booked months in advance — to help ease my symptoms caused by endometriosis. After my mum suggested seeing Morellato, I briefly read on Google how LDM could potentially reduce pain, bloating, and help with circulation, and I needed no more convincing. I booked an appointment with Morellato within a couple of weeks.
Whether you're looking for a complementary (not alternative — this is not in place of medication and surgery) or are just curious about the results, I wanted to share my experience with lymphatic drainage massage, including what the experts have to say on the treatment, and why I hope to continue getting it as often as my funds will allow. Spoiler alert: I was absolutely blown away by the results, and I've been shouting about it from the rooftops ever since (and showing off my impressive before-and-after photos).
What Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage?
Lymphatic drainage massage, also known as manual lymph drainage, is a massage technique using long, gentle strokes of pressure in specific areas of the body. It's important to note that LDM is unlike a regular massage. The objective is not to work tension from the muscles, but to stimulate circulation with specific, rhythmic movements, with the aim of promoting lymph fluids to flow around the body.
The lymph is a fluid we all have inside of us that contains white blood cells and lymphocytes, which attacks bacteria in the blood and flows around the lymphatic system. The job of the lymphatic system is to flush the body of unwanted waste and stimulate the immune system. The aim of this particular massage technique is to speed up the process of reducing water retention (this was one of the most shocking results to me) and speeding up circulation.
How Does Lymphatic Drainage Massage Work For Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is "a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes," according to the NHS, and it affects one in 10 women in the UK. One of the main symptoms — and most challenging day-to-day — can be pain caused by the tissue buildup. Lymphatic drainage massage is often advertised as a way to ease that pain. In general, there is very little research surrounding endometriosis, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there have been no studies carried out on the specific affects of LDM for endometriosis. Knowing this, I still wanted to reach out to leading obstetricians and gynaecologists to see if they had any insight.
"One of the theories regarding the pathogenesis [progression of the disease] of endometriosis is that it spreads via the lymphatic system," said Dr Matthew Erritty, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals. Therefore, a massage that helps to speed up the body's natural drainage process makes sense. "Lymphatic drainage massage may help reduce symptoms of endometriosis presumably by stimulating the lymphatic system, and using the lymphatic channels to help clear the endometriosis," said Dr Narendra Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology.
Additionally, "it may also help in management of pain symptoms associated with endometriosis by blocking the gates of pain receptors," Dr Pisal added. Both doctors emphasised however, that, like many complementary treatments, there is insufficient scientific evidence (or more accurately, absolutely none) for them or any other medical professionals to recommend LDM as a treatment for endometriosis.
"It's very hard to draw any conclusions about whether lymphatic drainage massages can [help] and whether they're beneficial or not," said Professor Tim Child who is a consultant gynaecologist and subspecialist in reproductive medicine and surgery at Oxford University Hospitals. However, Child also holds the opinion that "if people are open minded and they want to try these treatments, then they [should] go ahead. It's not like it's going to do any harm. So if you feel better for it, then that's a positive outcome," he added.
Elaine Denny, emeritus professor and researcher at Birmingham City University, holds a similar opinion. With endometriosis (and any health problem), complementary treatment is never the first point of call. "Women sort of go along the same trajectory [with endometriosis]. When they get to the end of the line [with medical help available], and they're still no better, then they start looking for alternatives. I don't think I ever interviewed anybody who started on [the complementary medicines] route," Denny said. "One woman I can remember was a quite hard and heavy scientist, and she was very skeptical [about complementary therapies], but still in the same desperation, tried many of them."
Is Lymphatic Drainage Massage Safe For Those With Endometriosis?
Women who suffer from endometriosis must approach LDM with caution. The last thing you want to do is pay tens and possibly even hundreds of pounds, for your pain to only worsen. And if you do book a treatment, it's very important that you tell your massage therapist that you suffer with endometriosis (or any other health problems), as this may affect the way the massage is carried out to avoid worsening symptoms.
When it comes to LDM for endometriosis, Morellato "prioritises the gut system to help with digestive problems and pelvic manoeuvres that improve mobility and speeds up the circulation," she said. Additionally, she aims to "calm down the irritated tissue and facilitate the bowel movements," although it bears repeating that there is no evidence to suggest that LDM can calm down the endometrial tissue. Morellato explained that during her LDM massage, extra attention is given to the ovarian points and only superficial (surface) pressure is used as not to cause more inflammation, which can happen if LDM is not performed correctly.
But don't let the caution deter you if you're interested in trying out LDM. In fact, in Brazil, where Morellato is from, LDM is often recommended post-surgery. "Brazil is one of the top leaders in plastics surgery and lymphatic drainage is mandatory after those procedures," she said. "Lymphatic drainage helps to flush the residual anaesthetic and speeds up the healing process; it can also help to control the swelling and bruises by flushing out the dead cells and bringing new nutrients for the reparative tissue."
What Happens During Lymphatic Drainage Massage For Endometriosis?
If you're looking to try out the massage, I have a few tips after getting one myself. It may seem silly, but I suggest tidying your bedroom beforehand (I did not, which is why I ended up having to use my flatmates bed — thanks Ellie) as the practitioner needs space to easily move around the bed. And make sure your heating is on during the Winter. I was freezing at the beginning of the massage because I didn't take into consideration that the massage requires very little clothing.
Ensure you're well hydrated. Morellato told me that I might need to pee more often after the treatment and boy, was she right. She stressed the importance of being well hydrated both before the treatment and afterwards to flush out your system.
During the treatment, the practitioner will use a little cream (don't expect lots of cream as is used for a regular relaxing massage). For my LDM, Morellato used unscented, nonirritating cream.
About half way into the massage, Morellato told me to listen out for my insides gurgling. I expected it to be the kind of noise that comes when you're hungry, but I was wrong. It was so much louder. My stomach started making intense gurgling noises, which was not only shocking, but also felt like proof that something was happening to my body during the massage. I wasn't in the least bit self-conscious of this though because Morellato was so professional and friendly.
Results of My Lymphatic Drainage Massage For Endometriosis?
Left: before. Right: afterImage Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Tori Crowther
To sum my experience of LDM up in one word it would be transformative. Firstly, I saw a huge reduction in pain for an entire week, which is remarkable considering the level of discomfort I was in prior to having the massage. The minimised pain meant that I didn't need to rely on my prescribed painkillers as much and I could go about my week as normal.
Second to the reduced pain was the reduction in bloating and water retention. The before-and-after photos speak for themselves when it comes how much the massage improved both.
Before starting the treatment, Morellato took one look at me and asked if my legs get sore. Sure enough, I get incredibly achy legs, particularly if my endometriosis is flaring up. She explained that I likely retain water in my legs, causing the discomfort. I believe the combination of minimising bloating, water retention, and speeding up my circulation helped immensely improve my endometriosis symptoms, an improvement that lasted about 10 days. And what a great 10 days it was.
However, for a short 10 days, the treatment is incredibly expensive, but I do understand why. Morellato is a leading practitioner in the UK, so her service is much more expensive than others. There are, of course, other practitioners charging cheaper rates, although please be wary and do your research before jumping in and trying lymphatic drainage massage for endometriosis.
Are my results a placebo effect? Without sufficient evidence, it might well be. But I don't believe it was. Taking into account the benefits it has for circulation and speeding up the body's natural lymphatic system (and the role this plays with endometriosis), I think it had a huge part to play in minimising my pain. LDM with Morellato isn't something I can afford on a regular basis, and not something I'll be getting routinely. However, I now know that LDM is an option in times when I really am struggling with pain or if I ever need it post-surgery.
Left side: after. Right side: beforeImage Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Tori Crowther