Since his hip replacement surgery five months ago, Stephen was recovering well. With a new right hip joint, things were progressing nicely: his mobility was returning, and happily – so was his independence. However, one issue puzzled him. After spending a considerable amount of time on his feet, his right foot would swell. Sometimes, at the end of the day, his left foot would also swell. What was going on? It seemed (sort of) understandable that his right foot might swell, but his left foot?
The reason for this swelling was an overwhelmed lymph system. After Stephen’s body had experienced the trauma of surgery, the lymphatic system had become overwhelmed and blocked, causing a type of ‘traffic jam’ in his right groin area. Consequently, fluid in his right foot was unable to be cleared properly from his leg. When the lymph system became even more congested, lymph in his left limb would start to become blocked. At times like this, when the lymphatic system is overwhelmed, lymphatic massage can be extremely helpful.
Your lymphatic system
The lymph system is an incredibly important system of the body. Unlike the blood vessel system responsible for carrying blood to and from the tissues, the lymphatic system is more like a cleaner, removing waste products, excess fluid, proteins, viruses and bacteria. Have you ever noticed your glands swelling up when you are coming down with the flu? That’s your lymphatic system at work, dealing with the virus and possibly secondary infections.
The lymphatic system consists of tiny, delicate lymph vessels, some only a cell wide, and lymph nodes throughout the body that transports fluid (known as lymph) from the body tissues back to the bloodstream. The vessels pump the lymph into the nodes, where the lymphocytes (think: a bit like tiny Pac Men) attack and destroy foreign viruses, bacteria and abnormal cells, like cancer cells.
When the lymph system is working well and has not been overstressed, we feel strong and healthy. When our lymphatic system is blocked, we can feel sluggish and tired and become more susceptible to infections. After a physical trauma we have a greater potential to overload our lymphatic system as it tries to clear the debris. Consequently, we can suffer noticeable problems such as inflammation or swelling.
Lymphatic massage is different to most other types of massage in that it is extremely gentle. Approximately 70% of the lymph is positioned just below the skin. A novice receiving a lymphatic drainage massage, may wonder what effect it is having as there is no pushing and kneading as one would experience with deep tissue massage. The massage feels quite superficial and light.
Lymphatic massage is a specific technique that must be learned. It helps the lymphatic system do a better job by gently pushing the sluggish fluid around the body, giving it a helping hand in the elimination process. Lymphatic massage encourages the fluid to move correctly in the body and reduces the pressure on the cells. This in turn allows them to reproduce more quickly and heal the body.
When it is functioning correctly, the lymph goes about its ‘job’ picking up the fluids between cell spaces and moving them back towards the heart. This process can be encouraged several ways: by the body’s movements throughout the day, exercising, as muscle contraction helps squeeze things along, and – by the skilled hands of a lymphatic drainage masseur.
In a rhythmic, circular motion, using only light pressure, the massage therapist encourages the lymph to move along in the direction towards the heart. A skilled lymphatic drainage therapist can identify information about the lymph, such as the direction, rhythm and quality of the lymphatic flow by working on a particular part of the body. They can then, with the correct techniques, help remap any drainage pathways and get the body’s lymph pumping again.
Who are prime candidates for lymphatic drainage?
After any physical trauma where the body has to ‘kick into fifth gear’ to heal itself, the lymph vessels can become overstressed with the work they have to do.
Individuals who have undergone surgery are good candidates for lymphatic drainage therapy. Those that have suffered from an injury such as a sprained ankle or torn ligaments can also benefit from this type of therapy.
Some surgical procedures even remove lymph nodes, such as some types of cancer surgery. Following this, some individuals experience a condition known as lymphoedema, where the lymph accumulates and results in swelling in certain parts of the body. In these cases, it is essential that a medical team is caring for such a patient, but in milder cases, lymphatic massage can greatly assist with managing the issue.
Fibromyalgia sufferers, those with chronic fatigue syndrome and even anyone that feels run-down may all benefit from lymphatic drainage massage. In all, it is a great additional healing benefit to the list of many health benefits that massage can provide.
Sage Institute of Massage – is more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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