The lymph system, a vital component of the body’s immune function, is comprised of the spleen, thymus gland, hundreds of lymph nodes and a vast network of vessels that run through the body similar to our veins and arteries.
Its role in the body is to pick up fluids and waste products from the spaces between the cells, and to filter and clean them. Like the roots of a tree, it starts as tiny, single-cell, wide vessels that eventually branch into larger tubes that carry the fluid back to the bloodstream as they drain into the thoracic and lymphatic duct in the chest and clusters of nodes at key points in the body. Through valves, the flow of lymph gets directed one-way towards the heart.
Lymph nodes are also located along the pathways of the lymphatic vessels, where they act as check points along the way. There, the fluid gets filtered and special cells called lymphocytes, attack and destroy foreign bacteria, viruses and even abnormal cells, like cancer cells. The human body houses a total of 500 to 750 nodes, approximately 250 of which are in the neck area. Most of this network of vessels is right under the skin, hence the pressure used to access and stimulate it is minimal.
The lymphatic flow can get sluggish and overtaxed and not do its job as efficiently for a number of reasons, such as surgery, injuries, edema (swelling), chronic inflammation, lack of physical activity, stress, fatigue or emotional shock. As a result, the regeneration of cells and tissue becomes less effective, oxygenation decreases, and overall immunity and vitality diminishes.
Lymphatic massage, in advanced variations called manual lymph drainage and lymph drainage therapy, helps the lymph system by stimulating the natural peristaltic contractions of the two to three layers of muscles along lymphatic pathways.
With each careful stroke, the skin is moved slightly in the direction of the lymphatic flow, which encourages the drainage of stagnant fluid and metabolic waste. Advanced practitioners can identify the rhythm, direction and quality of that flow through manual lymphatic mapping before, during, and after treatment to see if the stagnation has improved.
How it can help
Lymphatic massage is a good treatment for edema, localized inflammation (such as tendonitis), or a recent injury like an ankle sprain. It can be very helpful with sinus conditions, a general sense of congestion or sluggishness, and to boost the immune system, which gets activated by the stimulation of lymphatic flow through the lymph nodes. As a result, production of lymphocytes increases, which assists the body to detox and help with tissue regeneration, improving scars, stretch marks and surgical incision sites.
Lymphatic drainage massage can also be of specific benefit in the case of lymphedema, a swelling of the lymph passages after lymph node removal, as, for example, can be the case during a mastectomy, where lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed, or after radiation treatment. Like surgery, radiation can create scar tissue that obstructs the normal flow of lymph.
Lymphedema can create a painful and even debilitating condition for which lymph drainage has shown to be an effective part of treatment, especially if caught early on. By helping to reduce pressure on cells, those cells can reproduce faster to heal the body.
In cases of lymphedema, advanced practitioners are trained to precisely map the lymphatic flow and find alternate pathways for drainage.
When not to have lymphatic massage
Even though lymphatic massage is a wonderful tool to boost the immune system before cold and flu season approaches, it is not appropriate for people with acute infections or at the early onset of inflammatory disease and fever. It is also contraindicated in cases of serious circulatory issues such as thrombosis, or for people with heart problems, since lymphatic techniques may increase the cardiac load. The treatment is not advised in the presence of tumors, undiagnosed lumps or bleeding.
The most widely known forms of lymphatic therapies are manual lymph drainage, created by Dr. Emil Vodder in Austria (also called the Vodder technique), lymph drainage therapy, developed by Bruno Chikly, M.D., D.O., and the Lonsdale method of lymphatic massage.
Ata Susanne Morse is a licensed massage therapist and Shiatsu, acupressure, and Reiki practitioner with a private practice in Moab. She can be reached at 435 260 2874, at email@example.com or by visiting www.ombodyworkmoabmassagetherapy.com