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Manual Lymphatic Drainage and The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is one of the least discussed systems of our bodies, yet it plays many significant roles in our health and healing. What exactly is the job of the lymphatic system? And when or better yet, why would we want to seek out manual lymphatic drainage therapy (MLD)? In this post, we'll explore a brief overview of what roles our lymphatic system plays in our bodies, what MLD is, how it works, and how receiving lymphatic drainage therapy can help us whether we're recovering from an injury or surgery or just looking for some preventative care.

Our lymphatic system is a one directional circulatory apparatus in which fluid is moved through vessels toward the heart. the fluid moving through these vessels is called lymph. The composition of lymph depends on when and where in the body it is coming from and can include water, protein, lipids, fats, hormones, toxins, bacteria, body wastes and more.

Lymph travels through vessels to lymph nodes which act as a sort of purification center, removing any unwanted molecules and foreign objects. The lymph nodes then break down these particles so they can be flushed into the bloodstream and then to the kidneys for removal.

One interesting difference in our lymphatic system from our circulatory system is that there is no organ like the heart acting as a pump to push the fluid through the lymphatic vessels. Our lymphatic system relies on the interaction of other forces (contraction of our muscles, effects of gravity, the slight lift of our skin when we take a bath, or manual lymphatic drainage) to aid its functioning.

Our bodies are designed to do this on their own but sometimes the lymphatic system needs a little help to catch up. This can happen when we get sick, when body tissues have an injury or trauma, after surgery (especially one with node removal or damage to lymphatic vessels), or just because the lymphatic system is simply overwhelmed. This is where MLD comes in.

Manual lymphatic drainage therapy uses repetitive, directional movements with light pressure to help assist the one-directional flow of lymph. Areas with more nodes (the base of the neck, the armpits, the front of the hips, etc) are often "opened" first with these movements so that lymph from other areas of the body can move toward them and be processed.

Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage

  • Reduces Edema - MLD activates lymph circulation which helps to regulate fluid volume and pressure in tissue throughout the body.

  • Stimulation of the Immune System - lymph flow carries more antigens to lymph nodes, which is great preventative care. lymphatic techniques have also been shown to help reduce inflammation.

  • Stimulation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System - this is commonly referred to as the "rest and digest" response and can help those dealing with stress, depression, sleep disorders, and more.

  • Pain Reduction - MLD can inhibit nociceptors (our sensory receptors for painful stimuli), which can be very effective in helping to ease chronic pain.

  • Post-Surgical Healing - MLD an help decrease inflammation and accelerate healing post-surgery

When Not To Receive Lymphatic Drainage

Though lymphatic drainage can be extremely beneficial, there are some times when we don't want to receive this treatment. For the most part this goes for many cardiac conditions, acute infections and fevers, epilepsy, and conditions involving inflammation of the digestive tract. If you are unsure if lymphatic drainage is right for you, please reach out to us or talk to your doctor first.

Try It Today!

If lymphatic work sounds intriguing to you, but you're not sure if you're ready for a full lymphatic session, just ask if you can try some mixed in with your regular massage session. From there you and your therapist can decide if you want or need more in-depth lymphatic therapy aside from your regular massage sessions.

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