What is lymph and what does it do for your body?
Lymph is the cellular matrix that helps to protect your body from infection. Whenever you come into contact with a foreign pathogen it’s the lymphatic system that responds and protects your body. Within the lymph tissue are millions of specialized cells, each working to identify and break down what could potentially make you very sick. Some of these cells are called leukocytes, and they work to fight against bacteria and viruses. But Leukocytes don’t work alone. Macrophages work along with leukocytes to rid the body of infection. Dendritic cells work on detecting foreign DNA or tumor cells. Whenever your lymph cells are activated, due to infection or autoimmune response, you might become aware of some tell-tale signs. Swollen glands around your chin, inflammation within joints and sinus cavities, edema in your gut, or a low-grade temperature can all be some early signs that your lymphatic system is working hard on your behalf.
When your lymphatic system works well, then your ability to fight infection is at its strongest. But when lymph glands, lymphatic organs, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels are compromised due to congestion, your whole immune response slows down. You can get sick more often, have more severe symptoms and your recovery from illness can drag on long after you would normally expect it to.
That’s where lymphatic drainage massage can be a reliable and good tool. Lymphatic drainage massage is a powerful manual technique that works to remove blockages from all the lymphatic structures with a very light touch approach. This type of massage is effective at clearing out congestion as well as activating proper immune response throughout the body’s tissues. It can be of much benefit for clients who have Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, HIV, preparing or recovering from surgery, or are taking medications that suppress the immune system.
Lymphatic fluid not only helps to get rid of infection, it also helps to clear up tissue that no longer is needed in the body. Metabolic waste that is not cleared by the kidneys or liver can find its way into the lymphatic system. This excess fluid occurs just under the skin’s surface and makes joints and sinuses feel painful with pressure when build up occurs. Common reasons for swelling can vary, but most include surgery, side effects of medication, fibromyalgia, Cirrhosis, Lyme disease, thyroid conditions, pregnancy, or scar tissue. Symptoms of these conditions are lessened when lymphatic drainage massage is utilized as part of a treatment and recovery plan.
Using lymphatic drainage massage to help lymphedema
When treating a postoperative client, there is much to consider in terms of restoring proper lymphatic flow. Scar tissue can cause prolonged swelling due to its inability to let lymphatic flow occur through it. Scar tissue is the one type of tissue that lymph does not travel well through. The presence of scar tissue around lymph nodes and vessels leads to lymphedema, a condition that causes even standing to become painful. Lymphedema affects 10 million Americans every year, according to the National Lymphedema Network. It can be slow or fast to develop, and if severe enough, can lead to permanent damage to skin and surrounding tissues.
An important thing to know about lymph circulation is that it only flows in one direction, and it is not pumped through your body via the heart. It needs the help of friction from moving muscles or a decrease in gravitational pull. Like a water traveling in a tube, the flow is only in one direction. That is why elevating your legs when sitting down helps reduce swelling in the ankles, and why wearing compression stockings work to increase the pressure when the muscles of the leg move. Receiving regular lymphatic drainage massage can ensure that swelling and scar tissue do not clog lymphatic ducts, making the pain and severity of lymphedema lessened.
Women and link between breast health and lymphatic health
For women with a history or risk for developing breast cancer getting lymphatic drainage massage in order to keep aid the lymphatic ducts located around breast tissue is vital. Cancer spreads through the lymph system very fast, so having proper function within the structures is very important. According to the American Cancer Society of America the most common area of lymph node swelling for women is the armpits and chest, and the rate of metastasis of cancer through the breast tissue is 20% higher than in surrounding tissue. Each armpit alone has 20 large nodes and hundreds of lymph vessels. When women have mastectomy surgery they inevitably have to deal with swelling and scar tissue around incision sites and affected tissue. Since lymph nodes and lymph vessels may also be removed during surgery making sure that whatever remaining lymphatic structures remain functional and healthy is a primary goal to lymphatic drainage massage treatments. Keeping the health of these vessels and nodes maintained should be a priority for all women, even if they are not at high risk for breast cancer.
Whether I am treating my oncology clients or just addressing congestion within the lymph nodes due to surgery or hormonal changes in tissues, I believe that lymphatic drainage massage is a safe and effective tool to use for maintaining proper lymph tissue health.
Further tools for you to know and use
Here is some further advice and support that I give to my lymphatic drainage massage clients. I strive to help them add new ways of making their personal health easy, enjoyable and habitual.
Try dry brushing-This is an easy way to manually brush lymph faster through the lymph vessels. Usually done before you get in the shower, you would start at your feet/hands and use short gentle strokes to travel towards the torse. The torso area is brushed by starting at the belly button area and then spiraling outward, with all brushing strokes following the flow of the large intestines, from lower right hip up to ribs and then down to left hip area.
Using essential oils to help with immunity-Grapefruit oil stimulates the lymphatic system by providing a dietetic effect, which helps the kidneys flush out toxins dumped into the urine. Geranium oil has a strong anti-inflammatory property. It is often used for people who tend to have both dry or oily skin due to its ability to balance the PH of skin.
Tea tree oil is a powerful tool when it comes to fighting off bacteria, mold, fungus, and virus that can linger on the surface of your body. Your skin is your body’s first defense after all.
Take epsom salt soaks or baths when possible-Epsom salt is salt that carries extra bonded magnesium and sulfate ions. Magnesium in particular is useful when trying to relieve swelling. The effects of sulfates help to ensure that magnesium is absorbed through the skin to the underlying lymphatic tissue. This area is found just underneath the skin level.
Get enough water and electrolytes every day-Dehydration makes swelling worse, because muscles and internal organs are not as active and elastic as they should be. Electrolytes help to maintain proper heart function, skeletal muscle use, support for many filtration organs and optimal lymphatic flow. Not only should you drink water, but try to have some electrolyte packed foods and fluids throughout your day. Coconut water, which contains 600 mg of potassium within each cup, is a nutrient rich and cooling drink. A mixed nut and pumpkin seed trail mix is an easy grab and go snack, sure to pack a punch for your needed daily 400mg of Magnesium. Grab that avocado, not to be trendy, but to ensure that you’re getting potassium as well as healthy fats in your diet.
Hope this information is useful and informative, as you learn the many ways to support your body and wellness.