The lymphatic system is such an important part of your health and it’s fascinating how interconnected it is to the body. It is certainly a buzz-worthy topic these days on social media! When delivered correctly, manual lymphatic drainage is an incredibly effective and beneficial therapy for a whole range of issues. After years of dabbling in lymphatic drainage, it was time to attend some serious training so in 2022 and 2023 I achieved certifications in Advanced Manual Lymphatic Drainage for Neck, Face, + Body from ASTECC.
WHAT IS MANUAL LYMPH DRAINAGE (aka MLD)?
Well for one, it’s NOT massage! MLD addresses the fluid in the body by using a gentle skin stretch rather than manipulating the muscles. Precise, rhythmic techniques stimulate the flow of fluid to support your immune system, alleviate swelling, relieve pain + inflammation, and have a positive effect on your parasympathetic nervous system. This supportive therapy is ideal for addressing skincare concerns, sinus + facial congestion, headaches, chronic injuries, swelling, and stress. *NOTE: MLD is used to treat serious conditions like lymphedema and lipedema, both of which I am not yet truly qualified to treat.
YOUR LYMPHATIC SYSTEM, SIMPLIFIED
Essentially, it’s not only a part of the immune system but is also the transportation and purification system that works alongside the circulatory and nervous systems. The lymphatic vessels maintain fluid levels throughout your body by collecting excess fluid that can lead to congestion + swelling in your tissues. This fluid retention manifests as puffy eyes, jowls or ankles, or can result from damaged or removed lymph nodes (e.g. from cancer) resulting in a condition known as lymphedema.
The movement of lymph in your body goes as follows:
Your capillaries leak plasma (a component of blood which is 92% water, 7% vital proteins, 1% salts, fats, hormones, vitamins) into the tissue space (the interstitium) in which your cells live, providing them with nutrients. The excess fluid as well as cellular ‘poop’ fills this tissue space and, since cells need a pristine environment in order to survive, lymph vessels act like a vacuum and suck up all of that waste. Once this extra fluid enters the lymph vessels it becomes lymph and is transported to your lymph nodes which act like a security checkpoint. They clean, filter, destroy harmful bits, or quarantine them (e.g. hair dye and tattoo ink is forever trapped in your lymph nodes) before sending that purified + safe lymph back into your circulatory system. Lymph does not have its own pump like the circulatory system (the heart) and relies upon MOVEMENT. You can encourage lymph flow simply by walking or exercising, deep breathing or manually move it with MLD techniques.
Think of your body like an aquarium – your cells are the fish and your lymphatic system is the filter/pump. If the filter + pump break down in a fish tank, water stops moving and all of the extra food and fish poop creates a murky environment. What happens next? Without a pump circulating the water, there is no flow. Because of the stagnant water and lack of oxygen the fish suffocate and die. MLD moves the fluid in your body to remove and clean up the “clutter” in your tissues, providing an environment in which your cells can flourish + function. Movement is the key to good health! Stagnation in your body = death…literally your cells will die!
HOW CAN YOU MAINTAIN LYMPHATIC HEALTH?
Despite what you may be reading everywhere, your lymphatic system is likely working efficiently so there’s no need to panic. If you have specific health conditions that are limiting your movement or impairing your immune system, or any other system in the body for that matter, your lymphatic system may need extra help.
Simple ways to move your lymph:
- deep diaphragmatic breathing
- physical exercise; e.g. walking, jumping rope, yoga, swimming
- using the lymphatic brush
- restful sleep
- well balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables
IS MLD FOR EVERYONE?
Yes, BUT there are several absolute contraindications for receiving MLD and some relative based on your health history. An increased lymph flow may not be a good idea if your systems are compromised.
These are a no-go!
- cancer: active cancer or not yet diagnosed tumors, sarcomas, carcinomas, leukemia
- thrombosis: an acute deep vein thrombosis (DVT) creates a danger for an embolism occurrence
- congestive heart / kidney failure: an increase of fluid in the body may cause strain on the heart and/or kidneys already weakened function
- active inflammation or infection: a viral or bacterial infection can cause local or systemic heat, redness, pain, fever, cellulitis
You can receive MLD but please inform me of any underlying conditions so I can adjust your session accordingly.
- hyperthyroid: MLD can flood your circulatory system with hormones
- low blood pressure: Blood pressure can continue to fall when receiving an MLD treatment
- asthama: MLD inhibits the sympathetic nervous system which dilates the bronchi; therefore a potential for an asthma attack exists
- skin lesions: Deeply pigmented and raised lesions are to be avoided
- menstruation: MLD can increase flow
- pregnancy: MLD is appropriate but just like massage, dependent upon your pregnancy