Why We May Need to Drain Our Lymphatic System
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Television host Wendy Williams has been open about her health issues, including her addictions to cocaine and alcohol. And as of recently, she shared with her audience another battle she is fighting - lymphedema.
“Lymphedema, by the way, I’ve been diagnosed,” Williams reportedly said during the taping of one of her talk shows.
“It’s not going to kill me, but I do have a machine — and how dare you talk about the swelling of it all.”
The swelling of it all?
In a nutshell, lymphedema is swelling that occurs from lymph fluid in the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But to really understand the condition of lymphedema, you have to have a basic understanding of the lymphatic system.
I think this source sums it up in a way that is very easy to digest: “The lymphatic system is one of two major systems responsible for moving fluid around your body. The other is the cardiovascular system. These two circulatory systems work together to make sure your body’s tissues can get what they need and get rid of what they don’t need.”
The lymphatic system plays a key role in the body’s immune response and helps our bodies eliminate waste, toxins and other unwanted things. Organs of the lymphatic system include the tonsils, adenoids, spleen (the largest organ in the lymphatic system) and thymus.
“The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body,” according to one source.
(As previously discussed, your white blood cells, also called “immune system cells,” play a critical role in your fight against the flu and other viruses and infections).
Basically, “[l]ymph vessels route lymph fluid through nodes throughout the body. Lymph nodes are small structures that work as filters for harmful substances. They contain immune cells that can help fight infection by attacking and destroying germs that are carried in through the lymph fluid,” (American Cancer Society).
Upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold, may cause painful, swollen lymph nodes, which you may feel in your throat or behind your ears.
Cancer that begins in the lymph nodes is called lymphoma, and some cancers may spread to the lymph nodes.
Williams mentioned that she has a machine. Machines such as compression leg pumps are sometimes used to treat lymphedema. These machines may help lymph fluid move properly.
Lymphatic drainage massage.
You may have never heard of a woman by the name of Flavia Lanini, but to many celebrities she is the star of massage therapy. Lanini, a Brazilian massage therapist, has a long list of famous clients including Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Paris Hilton, Dua Lipa, Hailey Bieber (Baldwin) and many more.
One of her specialities is lymphatic drainage massage, which has become very popular in the beauty industry and is said to reduce water retention and have many other benefits including:
- Reduced appearance of cellulite
- Better digestion
- Better skin (including cleaner pores and less acne)
- Pain relief
- Improved immune system
“The function of lymphatic drainage is to remove toxins that accumulate between cells. The drainage occurs naturally after each massage. This stimulation will decrease any swelling and will improve cellulite appearance. Lymphatic drainage also improves circulation, relaxes the body and combats localized fat,” Lanini said, in this article.
Even Victoria’s Secret models swear by lymphatic drainage massage in order to debloat for fashion shows.
This all sounds great, however, I’m a bit cautious when it comes to health and wellness advice that stems from the beauty industry. There is usually not a lot of science backing up these claims. But it also turns out that lymphatic drainage massage is used to treat certain medical conditions (such as lymphedema). So let’s look at this form of massage therapy more from a medical perspective.
How lymphatic drainage massage is used in the medical community.
First, let’s go over how lymphatic drainage massage is done. In the medical community, this type of massage is more commonly called “manual lymph drainage (MLD).”
“Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) massage can reduce swelling and detoxify the body using a light technique that helps move lymph [remember, the fluid that contains white blood cells] from one area of the body into another. A slow, gentle, rhythmic skin stretching technique is used because the lymph vessels lays just beneath the skin’s surface. A deeper pressure would press the vessels closed, blocking the flow of the lymph,” reports Cleveland Clinic.
MLD is often used to treat lymphedema.
As mentioned, lymphedema is a condition in which lymph builds up in tissues under the skin. This can occur when something blocks the normal flow of lymph. This condition causes swelling, usually in the arm or leg.
“In most cases of lymphedema, the lymphatic system has been injured so that the flow of lymph is blocked either temporarily or permanently. This is called secondary lymphedema [and is also the most common type of lymphedema],” reports Harvard Health.
Causes of secondary lymphedema may include:
- Surgical damage.
Cuts from surgery and removal of lymph nodes (as is done with some types of cancer) may cause lymphedema. The lymphedema can appear right after surgery and then go away relatively quickly. Or, “[i]n other cases, lymphedema develops from one month to 15 years after a surgical procedure. Lymphedema occurs quite often in women who have had multiple lymph nodes removed during surgery for breast cancer,” (Harvard Health).
- An infection of the lymphatic vessels.
In the tropics and subtropics, infections from parasites are a common cause of lymphedema.
Lymphoma or other types of cancer that spread to the lymph nodes may block lymphatic vessels and cause lymphedema.
- Radiation therapy for cancer.
This therapy may cause scar tissue and block lymphatic vessels.
According to Cleveland Clinic, lymphatic drainage massage may also help treat other health conditions such as:
- Chronic sinus and ear infections
- Chronic pain
- Chronic venous insufficiency (which can occur due to having diabetes)
- Scars, acne, wounds, burns and other dermatologic issues
- Chronic fatigue and shortness of breath
- Edema (swelling)
Lymphatic drainage massage and athletics.
This type of massage may also reduce swelling from athletic injuries.
“During lymphatic drainage massage, the therapist moves the athlete's skin along the body part, horizontally and/or diagonally,” according to this source.
It's probably good to seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional before getting a lymphatic drainage massage. And if you are doing it for cosmetic reasons, make sure the massage therapist is certified and do your research.
Another option is doing the lymphatic drainage massage on yourself. (For a guide, click here). There are also books and other online resources that teach how to do lymphatic drainage massage yourself, but make sure that you are looking at medically supported advice. And to be on the safe side, again, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional.
There are some medical conditions that if you have them, lymphatic drainage massage is not recommended. These conditions include:
- Congestive heart failure
- History of blood clots or stroke
- Current infection
- Liver problems
- Kidney problems
So although it appears that lymphatic drainage massage has many potential health benefits, it is imperative to know your health status to see if you are a good candidate for this form of massage therapy.
In addition to manual lymphatic drainage massage, there is also some evidence that cryotherapy related therapy may assist with draining the lymphatic system. Cryotherapy may also help boost immunity, reduce pain and swelling and more.
Then there is a new modality called Cryo T-Shock.
The Cryo T-Shock involves the use of a very innovative technology which delivers alternating “thermal shocks” of thermography (heat therapy) and cryotherapy (cold therapy). This technique hyper stimulates the skin and tissue which speeds up the cellular activities and immediately improves the appearance of the skin by tightening it. This treatment also causes the blood vessels and capillaries to expand by up to 400% and this may enhance lymphatic circulation.
Finally, keep your lymphatic system healthy by drinking plenty of water and following a nutrient-rich diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.