How can lymphatic drainage nourish your soul?
Manual lymphatic drainage is a gentle form of massage intended to improve the circulation of lymphatic fluid throughout the body. The lymphatic system is a network of fine vessels which has an important role in immune function as well as the elimination of wastes, toxins and excess fluid from the body’s tissues. It has a similar structure to the cardiovascular system, which carries blood around the body, but without a central pump like the heart, it relies on the action of the muscles to circulate the lymph fluid.
As a result of illness, surgery, or in some cases insufficient physical activity, the functioning of the lymphatic system may be compromised. This can lead to a build-up of lymph, which manifests as swelling in a particular area such as an arm or a leg, and a chronic case of this type of swelling is called ‘lymphoedema’.
Lymphatic drainage massage can help alleviate lymphoedema, as well as less severe instances of swelling, by encouraging the circulation of fluid through the lymphatic vessels. It often involves using effleurage, or gliding motions, to help move the lymph fluid away from the swollen area. Manual lymph drainage is often part of a therapeutic program to manage congestion in the lymphatic system, and may be complemented by the application of compression bandages or special garments designed to limit swelling.
Benefits of lymphatic drainage
General benefits of manual lymphatic drainage include reduced swelling, improved circulation and immune function, as well as overall systemic detox and stress reduction. Manual lymph drainage is reported to be beneficial for reducing the pain of menstrual issues, and it may be recommended after surgery to reduce swelling and bruising. This therapy may also provide relief from pregnancy issues such as fluid retention and swelling in the lower limbs.
Many women experience lymphoedema after having lymph nodes removed during surgery for breast cancer, and there is evidence to suggest that manual lymph drainage might play an important role alongside other therapies to treat this condition. Research suggests it may help reduce postoperative swelling of the face after the removal of wisdom teeth. Lymphatic drainage has also been studied as a possible strategy for alleviating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Lymphatic drainage is one of several types of massage therapy that may alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and is reported to possibly be more effective than connective-tissue massage in this application. Research suggests manual lymphatic drainage may support muscle regeneration in athletes practising martial arts, possibly reducing the risk of sports injuries.
Lymphatic drainage may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
- Breast cancer
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Detoxing and cleansing
- Digestive and gastrointestinal issues
- Edema and fluid retention
- Fatigue, burnout and exhaustion
- Headaches and migraines
- Immunity issues
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
- Pain relief
- PMT/PMS and menstrual issues
- Pregnancy, birth and antenatal support
- PTSD and trauma
- Skin, hair and nail issues
- Sports injuries
- Stress and tension
- Weight control and obesity
What to expect from a lymphatic drainage session
Lymphatic drainage practitioners are usually massage therapists who have undergone specialist training to understand the lymphatic system and learn techniques for promoting lymph circulation.
To begin, your practitioner will obtain a detailed medical history from you, and ask you about the specific swelling, lymphoedema or other condition that has prompted you to seek treatment. You will need to remove some clothes for the lymph drainage massage, but you will be provided with towels so you don’t feel exposed.
For the treatment itself, you will be invited to lie down on a massage table. Your lymphatic drainage practitioner will use gentle, rhythmic strokes to help propel the lymph towards the thoracic duct, through which it will be returned to your bloodstream. Most practitioners do not use massage oil or cream when performing lymphatic drainage, and a full-body treatment typically lasts about 90 minutes.
Because a lymphatic drainage session may lead to a drop in blood pressure, it is advisable not to drive after the treatment. Also, you might temporarily feel slightly unwell after the treatment, as toxins are flushed out of your system via your liver and kidneys, and in some cases, this might also result in skin outbreaks. To help manage swelling, you might be given compressive garments or bandages after the treatment and taught how to use them.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing lymphatic drainage. This treatment is not suitable for people with poor kidney function, those who are suffering from acute inflammation or cancer, and survivors of congestive heart failure. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your lymphatic drainage practitioner, who will be happy to address these and personalise the session to your individual requirements.