Massage therapy

Benefits & Techniques of Lymphatic drainage massage

Has Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) massage been recommended for you by your doctor? Did your friend suggest that you give it a go because of the undeniable benefits? Maybe you have heard reports that it is what allows your favourite celebrity to have undeniably flawless and timeless skin?

Perhaps you have heard of it in the realm of cancer for patients who are suffering with Lymphedema. Maybe you have heard that your friend with fibromyalgia has arranged a session to relieve their pain. It is also possible that you have heard that lymphatic drainage is the go to beauty regime for Meghan Markle. The lymphatic drainage massage has gained great respect within the alternative medicine community as well as the medical and beauty professions because new benefits are being noticed regularly.

If you are like the majority of the population, this massage may sound way too scientific and technical, possibly you are being deterred because you do not have a medical disease of illness and it sounds more like a medical procedure than a relaxation exercise.

When you go to visit your primary physician for an infection, fever or other illness it is almost guaranteed that one of the tests that they will do is feel your neck to see if your lymph nodes are swollen. If it hurts or feels uncomfortable then they are congested and therefore pointing towards an infection. If they are small, pea size balls then it is usually safe to say that your body is not currently fighting off any germs.

Surely if it is an area of your body that the doctor checks then it is a medical problem, not a massage problem? Well, that is one way to look at it, another is that your body is a complex and intuitive piece of machinery that needs to be oiled and serviced regularly. If your car was to get damaged then you would have it fixed, if you hair colour began to dull, you would have it dyed. If your body begins to swell then you want to reduce the inflammation, if the skin tone begins to lose its shine or the facial tissues begin to sag you want to find a way to continue looking young.

Lymphatic drainage massage can help to restore your natural beauty, while reducing pain, aches, inflammation and swelling. Unfortunately, to understand the lymphatic system it is necessary to have a brief understanding of the science behind it.

The science of Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage – the easy way

Your body has hundreds of little balls that are joined by vessels. These vessels carry fluid around your body. The fluid is made up of the toxins, dead cells and plasma that your body no longer needs or wants. When the system is working correctly, the vessels and capillaries will carry this unwanted matter around your body until it can be disposed of. Each lymph node; the little balls, filters it for reabsorption or waste.

There are times when this system is unable to work properly, for example, in some cancers or cancer treatments, the lymph nodes are removed which prevent the system from filtering correctly. There are also some diseases and illnesses that can clog up the nodes.

As the lymphatic system is a major contributor to many bodily functions, when one becomes congested the effects can be far ranging. One of the functions that require the lymph nodes to be fully working is the lubrication of the skin. If the skin is not sufficiently lubricated it can lead to premature wrinkles, cellulite and facial sagging. Along with the aesthetic complications of blocked nodes, a build-up can also lead to inflammation and swelling.

Lymphatic drainage massage will therefore try to decongest these clogs and encourage the fluid to do what it is supposed to do. If the lymph node has been damaged beyond use then the therapist will use the massage to push the fluid toward another, fully functioning node.

The science of Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage – detailed

The Lymphatic drainage massage was created by a physical therapist who had been treating cancer patients for swelling and lymphoedema. As part of the cancer treatment, lymph nodes are often taken out or damaged by the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This lymph node impairment can result in a reluctance of the body to drain metabolic waste. This physical therapist was charged with treating lymphedema.

With between 600 and 700 lymph nodes in the human body, all of which are different in size and clustered into groups, the fluids are usually cleaned out and filtered regularly. The main ones are located on the neck, groin, armpits, chest and abdomen. At times, particularly during times of illness, these nodes can become clogged or damaged, resulting in the build up of fluids in some areas. For example, the leg or the arm.

It is believed that the fluid build up can be encouraged to clear by forcing the fluid through any congested nodes. If this is not possible then the fluid can be redirected to the lymph nodes that are still in full working order.

The lymphatic system has three important parts;

  • Lymph fluid

Lymph fluid contains white blood cells, fats, minerals and proteins. In addition the lymph fluid has traces of damaged cells and cancer cells that are floating around the body. This fluid circulates like blood but in its own individual cycle. The filtering of toxins and metabolic waste supports the immune system so that it is ready when you need it and prevents germs, bacteria and fungus from causing too much damage to your body.

  • Lymphatic vessels

Lymphatic vessels clear the fluid away from the tissues in the body and the lymph capillaries are found in all areas of the body apart from the central nervous system, bone marrow and any tissues that do not contain blood vessels. The capillaries join together to create larger vessels, in turn, these join to become lymphatic trunks in larger body regions.

  • Lymphatic ducts

There are two lymphatic ducts in the human body. One is on the right and drains fluid from the upper right quadrant of the body. The left duct, also called the thoracic duct, drains the rest of the body.

The lymphatic system does not have a heart to pump the fluid around the body so pressure and respiration are the only things that can push the fluid through the vessels.

When the pressure is too gentle or the respiration is not strong enough to pump the fluid, the ducts become clogged and this is when the lymphatic drainage massage can come in handy.

Although primarily practised in the medical profession, the technique has made its way onto the beauty therapy business because it is now understood to reduce cellulite, sculpt jawlines and strengthen the immune system.

Beyonce and Selena Gomez have brought lymphatic facials to the forefront of the beauty profession with their healthy, glowing skin that is simply timeless.

What ailments can Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage support?

This massage has been known to relieve the symptoms of many conditions. It is often recommended as part of a wider care plan for people who are being treated for breast cancer. It is particularly helpful for women who have had the lymph nodes removed from their chest following breast cancer. Cancer of the breast can occasionally have cells break off that will get into the lymph nodes. Once this happens they must be removed. Lymphatic drainage can then be used to support the system and prevent or reduce swelling from lymphoedema.

The drainage massage is also used for swelling or oedema, fatigue, stress and skin disorders. Further to this, lymphatic drainage can relieve pain from arthritis, migraines and digestive issues.

In addition to these illnesses and symptoms, a systematic review carried out by Yuan and Matstani in 2015 concluded that lymphatic drainage massages are more effective in treating depression and fibromyalgia than connective tissue massages.

As insomnia, stress and fatigue can also be relieved through lymphatic drainage, it is safe to say that your mental health will benefit.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage for the face

In recent years the lymphatic drainage massage has been adapted to work on other areas of the body and for cosmetic reasons as opposed to medical. Selena Gomez and Dakota Jonson have raved about the treatment and before and after images are beginning to flood the internet.

Ellie Goulding and Millie Mackintosh have become recent icons to make the therapy a part of their routine due to the detoxification and speeding up of the metabolism.

As the lymphatic drainage massage speeds up the circulation of blood it can help you if you are feeling tired, bloated, constipated, menopausal, premenstrual stressing or suffering from another hormone imbalance. All of which will bring comfort and ease pain during pregnancy and give mothers an opportunity for some relaxing self-care. Due to these benefits lymphatic drainage massage has become a welcomed therapy for pregnancy, postnatal and post-surgery treatments.

The therapy can also promote the excess hormones, retained water and toxins to be mixed into the blood stream where it will eventually be filtered by the kidneys and evicted through your urine.

Although more research is needed, it is believed that this therapy can improve complexion and ease skin irritations. Reports have been made about the ability of the massage to reduce wrinkles, improve the skin tone and clear up bags underneath the eyes.

Warning! Your tea bags, cucumber slices and face masks may become redundant with this technique being used.

Other aesthetic reasons to get a lymphatic drainage massage would include weight loss. As the practice encourages the absorption of fat cells, it is possible that it can be an invaluable exercise to add to your weight loss plan.

What happens during Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage?

This practice is likely to be the most subtle and gentle therapy to be called a massage. With only the slightest pressure, circular movements are moved around your skin. There is no skin pulling, muscle pushing or joint manipulation in sight.

The techniques that are used include:

  • Stationary circles that are applied by the fingers or hand. The continuous circles are used on the groin, armpit, neck and facial lymph nodes.
  • The pump technique is where the whole of the palm and fingers circle with light pressure. It is used for the lymphatic vessels in the limbs of your body.
  • The scooping technique is commonly used in the legs. The light pressure is placed through the palms facing upwards and fingers stretched out to look like the scoop. One or both hands in this position move in a spiral shaped motion.
  • The rotary technique can be used in larger areas. With the entire hand and fingers placed downwards the stroke covers an elliptical motion.

Depending on the area that is being worked on, the level of need and the therapist profession, the lymphatic drainage massage can last anywhere between one hour and several hours. As it is a slow and gentle massage you may find yourself falling asleep. I guess that if you are a new mum then this could be your only chance to get a good sleep.

What does a lymphatic drainage massage feel like?

When pressure is used within the lymphatic drainage massage, it is in a way that is deep enough to see the skin move but not the muscles or tissues beneath it. Any pressure that reaches the lymph node channels will stop the process from working. This is because the vessels are sensitive and easily close under pressure. If the vessel has weight on it then the fluid will be unable to break through.

The direction  of the strokes will always be towards the desired lymph nodes and the maintained rhythm of the strokes will encourage the pumping action of the channels. Many people report that the rhythm aids their ability to relax and destress which could be due to the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

When should I avoid a Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage?

Although the lymphatic drainage massage comes with many benefits, that are both physical and mental, they should be avoided if you have cardiac issues, acute infections or inflammation and blood clots.

It is always worth checking with your primary doctor before getting any massage if you have a condition and you are not sure about whether the technique is right for you.

If it is your medical professional that has referred you for a lymphatic drainage massage then you can feel safe in the knowledge that you will be safe to lay back and enjoy it.

What is lymphatic breathing?

Respiration is one of the functions that pushes the lymphatic fluid around your body. Lymphatic breathing is used within the massage to encourage the flow of fluid through the vessels and nodes. It is easy to do and the practice will help to ensure that the fluid is pumped through your system as it should be, pushing any congestion through and clearing the path for the cycle to become naturally occurring again. How is it done though?

Step 1

Ideally while laying down, place both of your hands upon your stomach.

Step 2

Inhale deeply through your nose, noticing that your stomach is expanding. While you are doing this, try to keep your shoulders still.

Step 3

Very slowly allow the air to exhale through your mouth.

Step 4

Take a short rest before inhaling your next breath.

Side effects of a Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage

Due to the gentle action of the lymphatic drainage massage there are few side effects that can be noted. Those that have been identified are generally considered to be minor and short lived.

On occasion clients can find themselves feeling nauseas or vomiting following a massage. If you need a moment for this to pass then please tell your therapist who will be happy for you to wait until the feeling has eased or call someone who can collect you. 

Bruising can also occur in places where firmer pressure has been applied. This is not a common side effect and may be linked to other treatments that you are undergoing.

If you are diabetic then there are a few more side effects such as finding that your blood sugars fluctuate. If this occurs then please discuss it with you doctor.

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