What Is Lymphatic Drainage And Why Should You Care?
Your lymphatic system is a complex part of your body which is connected to the circulatory and immune systems and serves several vital functions. Lymphatic drainage is a process that you can help along which can improve your body’s ability to fight off disease, increase energy, and reduce pain caused by fluid buildup in certain parts areas.
What does the Lymphatic System Actually Do?
The lymphatic system is a series of vessels which transfer a clear fluid called “lymph” toward the heart. It’s a key part of how your blood remains clean and should consistently move through your body.
An average person cycles about 20 liters of blood a day through their circulatory system, which is generally a closed system but eliminates plasma from blood through a process called capillary filtration. 17 liters end up going back into the circulatory system, but three stay in the intestinal fluid. Your lymphatic system is the part of your body that continually switches those out so that you can constantly clean your blood.
It also helps you with your immune system. Lymphocytes are a form of white blood cell, the kind that help to fight off disease in your body. They are produced my lymphatic tissue around the body, including your thymus, spleen, and lymph nodes like the tonsils.
These are the same places that the liquid, lymph (which is like blood plasma), is produced. Lymph not only transports blood back into the circulatory system, it also helps clear away waste products from the body and keeps you in good health.
The powerhouse that causes lymph to keep flowing through your body is your own movement. As your muscles expand and contract, that action pushes lymph through the lymphatic vessels and into or out of nodes. The more you move, the better your lymphatic system will function.
While lymph should be always flowing throughout your body, those with lymphedema find that lymph pools in particular areas instead. This is not only painful for a lot of people, but can have a number of side effects including swelling in those areas, depression, and difficulty moving. It is generally the result of surgery which affected the lymphatic system in some way, such as the removal of lymph nodes associated with cancer surgeries. Areas of the body near the surgical site are generally the most effected by lymphedema, but it can manifest anyplace where lymph travels if sufficient blockage occurs.
The process of clearing these blockages is called “lymphatic drainage.” There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but the most common is lymphatic massage.
There are two major aspects of lymphatic massage: clearing and reabsorption. Clearing flushes the lymph from the blockage, getting it out of the way while reabsorption gets new lymph moving into place so that the system can get back to doing its job. Getting the lymphatic system in good order can make you more energetic because your blood is being transported back into your system more efficiently and also boost your immune system by getting lymphocytes to the places where they need to be.
How to Clear Lymph Blockages
The easiest way to clear lymph blockages is to engage in regular massage to areas most commonly blocked, which is the supraclavicular lymph area, the axillary lymph area, and the inside of the elbows.
Start by lying down on a comfortable, flat surface. It doesn’t have to be a hard surface, but a little bit of firmness will make the exercise easier. While a bed might not be suited for this, a firm couch or even a carpeted floor is fine.
Cross your arms over your chest with the hands resting on the supraclavicular lymph area, which is right underneath your collarbone. Once you’re in position, merely lift your elbows up while keeping your hands on your chest. You don’t need to press in or do much work: just the act of lifting your elbows will be enough.
Next, to clear the axillary area (located under your arms), stand up and put your hand on top of your head with the elbow out to the side. Take your other hand and gently run it from your elbow, down your arm, to your armpit. Again, this doesn’t take a lot of pressure, just enough to move the skin.
Finally, to clear the inside of your elbows, lay back down with your arm at your side and use the other hand to gently pull the skin in the area up, then release. Move around the elbow area, never pinching yourself too hard.
Clearing can be done up to ten times per day or as recommended by a doctor. Make sure that even if you’re experiencing lymphedema on only one side of your body that you massage both sides equally, or you could be encouraging a blockage on the other side.
How to Encourage Reabsorption
Now that you have the blockages clear, you can focus on encouraging good movement through the lymphatic vessels.
Start at the point furthest from the core of the body, generally your hand. Choose one side and run one hand up the opposite hand, gently pressing from the tips of the fingers to the palm. Next draw your hand from the wrist to the elbow, and them from the elbow to the shoulder. Repeat on the other side, applying just enough pressure to move the skin.
Once you’ve done both arms, draw your hands along the area just underneath your collar bone, focusing on one side at a time. Once you’ve done so five times or so, you can relax for a bit.
Clearing and reabsorption should take about 20 minutes daily, but if you don’t have time for that, consider just doing the clearing exercises, since they’ll still prevent buildup from causing you pain and discomfort.
How Do I Know It’s Working?
There is very little ambiguity when it comes to lymphedema. If you had what appeared to be swelling and pain in an area and it’s gone after a few days of massage, it’s working. Regular lymphatic drainage can be a very good thing for you and might address some of the other physical problems you might be having.
Regular Exercise Also Helps
While lymphatic drainage massage is a very effective way to keep your lymphatic system working at its peak, another way is to get regular exercise which keeps your muscles moving.
Trampolining is particularly good for your lymphatic system for a number of reasons.
First of all, the up and down motion keeps the fluids in your body on the move. Landing on the mat causes lymph to push upward because of the momentum from falling. It then is pressed immediately down when you rebound back into the air.
Moreover, trampolining works a lot of muscle groups, from your legs and glutes to your core to even your arms if you make the effort to move them while jumping. Every bounce causes your muscles to instinctually expand and contract, an action which keeps the lymph in your system draining and moving around.
Taking Care of Yourself
There is no magic way to ensure that you never experience lymphedema, but you can do everything in your power to prevent it and deal with it when it happens. Lymphatic drainage is crucial to keeping so many of your body systems working, so be sure to take the steps you need to encourage a healthy lymphatic system.