The Lymph System and General Health

When most people think of massage, they think of it being a fun, but optional, practice that is done primarily for luxury or relaxation purposes. 

While massage is both relaxing and luxurious to some, it is considered by many health practitioners to be an essential regimen to maintain good health and homeostasis. Homeostasis is the delicate balance of multiple biological mechanisms within the body. If any of dozens of important physiological mechanisms are out of balance, general health begins to suffer. This can often lead to a domino effect of many health issues cropping up, one after the next, and resulting in illness or disease. 

One very essential component of homeostasis in human beings is the lymph system. The lymphatic system is composed of the spleen, the tonsils, and the multitude of lymphatic ducts and lymph tissues that permeate the body. 

The lymph ducts and nodes are located in a similar way as veins and arteries, but unlike veins and arteries, they do not distribute the healthy flow of blood through the body. They are necessary to facilitate the flow of lymph around the body and work with the circulatory system to remove the cellular causes of disease. 

The purpose of lymph and the lymphatic system is not well understood by many. Lymph is a basic component of the immune system. It is a clear, yellowish fluid that is loaded with white blood cells called lymphocytes, and scavenger cells called macrophages. 

White blood cells are the body’s most basic defense against disease and infection, and macrophages attack and remove unwanted, disease-causing bodies such as cancerous cells. 

Lymph is needed by everyone to maintain fluid balance and to attack and discard of bacteria from bodily tissues. It flows through the body via lymphatic channels and ducts, and when it is not flowing properly or is inflamed, it can be visibly seen in the form of swelling, hives, and swollen lymph nodes. Most adults at one time or another have had painful, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit area, or groin. 

Unfortunately, most people don’t spend a lot of time regarding the health of the lymph system as much as they should. Luckily, one of the easiest ways to help your body move the flow of lymph to and from diseased tissue is to simply get regular massages.

Why Massage is Important for Good Health

It has long been known that massage can help people to reduce stress and to help with muscular strains, tension, and pain. Other things that studies have shown that regular massage may help improve the symptoms of include: 

  • Nervous problems 
  • Trouble sleeping related to stress
  • Headaches, especially those caused by muscle tension 
  • Some digestive problems
  • Issues with chronic pain
  • TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) problems

Massage therapy often causes people to experience uplifting feelings of connection, comfort, and caring as related to human touch. 

Massage is never a replacement for other medical treatments. Let your doctor know if you’re trying massage; always follow any treatment plans you currently have in place.

When to Avoid Massage

There are some medical conditions or situations that contraindicate getting massage therapy. 

If you have any healing wounds or burns, avoid disrupting healing by applying massage to broken or infected skin. If you are healing from a sprain or fracture, avoid massage over the affected area until your doctor says it’s ok. Lastly, if you are taking blood-thinning medication or anything else that impedes clotting, avoid massage therapy. 

There are a few conditions that you should consult your doctor to see if it’s ok to get certain types of massage. These include: 

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Thrombocytopenia 
  • Clotting disorders like hemophilia
  • Any history of blood clots or stroke
  • If you currently have an infection
  • Liver problems like cirrhosis 
  • Certain kidney problems
  • if you are on hemodialysis
  • If you are on chemotherapy

Always ask your doctor before initiating any new activity that might cause you any health concerns: especially if you are pregnant, you have cancer, or if you have any unexplained pain. 

Massage for Improved Circulation and Lymph Drainage

Massage has been shown to aid the circulatory system, stimulating the flow of blood and lymph vessels, thus improving the way the body gets rid of waste. It enhances circulation to the skin, extremities, and the organs. 

Many people suffer from lymph system inadequacy, which results in fluids pooling and causing swelling. There are specialists out there who provide massage specifically to help people with lymphedema, or swelling caused by a damaged or inadequate lymph system. That said, any kind of massage that encourages blood flow from the extremities back to the heart will help stimulate good circulation and flow of lymph.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep Tissue Massage is specifically known to benefit circulation. Through applying slow strokes, direct pressure, and friction on muscles, deep tissue massage can reduce tension and help with stiffness and soreness. 

Stroking the body, and looking for areas that are especially tight or painful, is a good way to find areas of fascia pain. 

By applying deep, rhythmic massage with a massage gun or with the hands, it is possible to loosen up tight, spasmed muscle and connective tissue, and thus decrease pain and increase flexibility. Doing all of this, and also stroking the skin and muscles, moving the hands from far away from the heart in sweeping and kneading motions that lead toward the heart, helps with excess fluid build up in the extremities, and helps circulation in general.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is a popular kind of massage that many beginners enjoy. It involves using lighter strokes than some other types of massage and is excellent for helping someone relax if they are having a bad week or having any anxiety issues. 

The application of light pressure with the hands, or with an electric massager, is provided to the skin of the entire body, slowly working one area at a time.  Steady pressure is applied to the muscle groups, working from far away from the heart, moving the massager or the hands slowly toward the heart.

This type of massage is excellent for helping the circulatory and lymph system both invigorate the tissues and help rid them of waste products.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage

The lymphatic system relies upon the movements of smooth muscle to push lymph fluids toward the heart, and then the resultant waste products are filtered out of the body. For this reason, massage is especially good to help this process work better. 

Some people who have had lymph nodes surgically removed will especially benefit from this massage, which is sometimes called decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT). The use of a roller type massager, or manual massage tools, may be of benefit when performing this gentle, sweeping massage.

This type of massage focuses on applying very light pressure, primarily stroking and stretching the skin lightly. It focuses heavily upon the areas of the body that have a number of lymph nodes: the neck, the axillae (armpits), the groin, and the backs of the knees. Putting deep pressure on muscles is contraindicated for this kind of massage. 

It is a good idea to drink 2-4 extra glasses of water a day when receiving this kind of massage, to help aid the flow of lymph. Do not perform this massage on any areas where you have had cancer treatment or surgery. 

  • Practice slow, deep breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth, through the entire massage. This is a very important part of the massage, and it helps the process of moving the lymph fluid. The benefits of Lymphatic Breathing is described in this way: “Deep breathing acts like a pump that helps move fluid through the vessels and lymph nodes.(1)
  • This massage can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. 
  • Starting at the front of the neck, carefully and gently stretch the skin toward the collarbones. Repeat a slow, sliding downward motion from both sides of the neck and at the back of the neck, from the hairline down toward the spine.
  • Cup the palm, “pumping” under each armpit, massaging upward
  • Place both hands behind the knees, with the fingers pointing at each other. “Pump” the palms behind the knees, making rolling motions upward.
  • Place your palms flat on the opposite sides of the chest, slightly above the breasts. Move the hands upward, over the collarbone. Continue gently moving up the neck, until the skin on the chest feels tight, then release… To continue instruction, please follow this link to get detailed step by step instruction on continuing through a total body massage for lymphatic drainage. 

The authors of a 2015 systematic review concluded that manual lymphatic massage in some cases is more effective than a massage that is focused on connective tissue, such as fascia, in relieving symptoms of fibromyalgia. These specific symptoms included stiffness and depressive episodes.

Massage for Better Health

An electric massager can provide a quick, invigorating massage that can both boost your mood and improve your general health. Today it is not necessary to spend money several times a month on a private massage when massage guns are better than ever at soothing sore muscles

Sources:

https://abcnews.go.com/Health/ColdandFluQuestions/story?id=6434097

https://www.britannica.com/science/lymph

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/massage/art-20045743

https://www.physio.co.uk/treatments/massage/physiological-effects-of-massage/cellular-effects/increased-lymphatic-drainage

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-perform-lymphatic-drainage-massage

https://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/spa-health/5-massage-therapies-that-improve-circulation.htm

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324518