Nearly 80% of women have sluggish or slow lymphatic systems, according to Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman, who has a P.h.D. in Holistic Nutrition. 80%.
On the National Institute of Health website, they published an article: “The blood and lymphatic systems are the two major circulatory systems in our body. Although the blood system has been studied more extensively…the lymphatic system is no less essential than the blood circulatory system for human health and well-being.”
The lymphatic system, according to Jessica Peatross, a medical doctor who is an advocate for holistic healthcare, might be the most forgotten system in our entire body.
My fascination with the idea of Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage began when a fellow student presented in front of our entire massage therapy program on lymphedema. She pulled up her pant leg to her knee to reveal a totally swollen leg, from her foot all the way up to her knee, which, in her case, was a genetic abnormality. I had never even heard of lymphedema, much less Manual Lymphatic Drainage, which she talked about very excitedly. “It works,” she said. “I’ve had it and it works.” She was so passionate about how it had helped her in her condition that it had been the reason she decided to become a massage therapist so late in life, hopefully going on to become certified in Manual Lymphatic Drainage.
I have her to thank for sparking a fire in my heart that led me to where I am today, a certified Manual Lymphatic Drainage therapist.
What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage?
Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a very specific, gentle therapy that is designed to increase the movement of lymph and interstitial fluid. The basic hand techniques adapted in MLD follow the anatomy and physiology of the lymphatic system, and are very specific along the “pathways” the lymph follow. It was founded by Dr. Emil Vodder in 1932, a massage therapist in Denmark, who utilized rhythmic pumping and circling techniques to encourage the flow of the lymphatic system when he realized his clients were suffering from swollen lymph nodes and colds from the dampness of their homeland. The colds of his patients vanished. Thus supported by his successes, he developed MLD.
Conditions Manual Lymphatic Drainage may help with symptom relief include:
- Edema (post-surgical, pregnancy-induced, injury-related)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
- Migraines and Sinus Headaches
- Fibrocystic Breast Disease
- Lyme Disease
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Multiple Sclerosis
One of the benefits, out of many, I found so incredibly fascinating upon learning about MLD was the projected neurological benefits. My instructor told us how she had clients who came for MLD solely because they told her it was the most relaxed they ever felt in their life. I wanted to experiment with this myself, because, although all massage has been studied and proven to have neurological benefits, my sister, who has been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, could never tolerate any of the newest massage techniques I’d learned from my massage therapy training in school, and would often get panicky on my table. Due to this, she was very nervous for me to try MLD on her when I asked, but she did. I performed a very simple 20 minute MLD technique on her back and whilst on the table she actually told me: “This is the most relaxed I’ve felt in years.” (She also had no idea about the supposed neurological benefits.)
Functions of the lymphatic system include:
- The lymphatic system prevents edema by returning protein and water to the blood
This is such an essential function that, without it, we would die within 24 hours.
- The lymphatic system absorbs FAT from the small intestine.
It’s sad that even I, before my training, had no idea my lymphatic system had any correlation with my digestion! Due to this function of the lymphatic system, it would appear that Manual Lymphatic Drainage can help with issues such as chronic constipation, obesity, and other digestive issues.
- The lymphatic systems provides immune surveillance by recognizing and responding to foreign cells, viruses, and cancer cells.
Basically, the lymphatic system fights off all the bad guys— all those unwanted infections in the wintertime.
So, when we have sluggish, or compromised, lymphatic systems, the probable consequences are often swelling, or edema in any area of the body, our digestion can be hindered, we can actually gain weight, or may be unable to lose weight, and our immune system is weakened, which can lead to contracting bacterial infections, viruses, autoimmune disease, and cancer.
This is huge, because cancer is on the rise more than ever. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2018, 1,735,350 new cancer cases and 609,640 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States. This is not okay. I had a grandfather that passed away due to cancer.
This should fuel us in recognizing the need for practicing preventative healthcare, especially when it comes to taking care of our lymphatic system.
Speaking of cancer, in the past and leading up to now, if you ever heard about Manual Lymphatic Drainage, it was often specifically tied to patients with cancer or lymphedema, which can either be a result of a genetic abnormality, or, more often, as a result of the removal of, or damage to, lymph nodes.
MLD is being used more and more in the oncology setting and is, according to The Society for Oncology Massage as well as The American Cancer Society, completely safe when done by a professional certified in oncology massage throughout every stage of cancer–during and after treatment, in remission, cure, or at the end of life. MLD, as well as Complete Decongestive Therapy, is also a part of the typical, frequent health protocol for those with lymphedema, or those at risk in having it.
With that said, how can you and I improve the health of our lymphatic systems?
Rebounding on a trampoline is awesome, but the absolute BEST exercise to get the lymph moving, according to my MLD Instructor, as well as Certified Lymphedema Therapist, is swimming, due to the combined pressure of the water and the full-body movement. Go book your water aerobics class!
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is truly an exercise, and not always an easy one I’ve learned. It has to be a conscious, daily effort. The diaphragm, our most vital muscle of respiration, sits right below the ribs. Upon inhalation it will contract and expand (which should cause your stomach to stick out just like a baby does when it breathes!), pumping lymph into our thoracic duct, the largest lymph vessel in the body, which penetrates our diaphragm. This is why deep breathwork is so crucial to lymph movement!
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Due to new and expensive technology, there is an actual video of our lymph movement in the body before and after MLD is being performed, and you can see it stagnant before MLD and see it move and flow through the body while MLD is being performed.
This excites me in ways I can’t describe. Massage, we know, in general encourages lymph flow, but MLD is specific to the lymphatic pathways. Because of this, it may prove to be the most effective massage technique I’ve learned or may ever learn. Not only that, but being the application of strokes in MLD is so gentle and noninvasive, it is one of the best and most accepted forms of manual therapy for those that are adverse to touch or those that are normally in too much pain to receive it.
To be able to learn more about this vital, yet sadly forgotten system of our body is awe-inspiring to me, and I thank the Lord for the new tools and gifts He’s blessed me with to expand my skill set, and open up more opportunity for me to serve you more and help you more. It is a blessing I cherish, and a type of natural healthcare that I hope you will research and learn more about, as I continue to do. 🙂