LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE MASSAGE
Within us all there is a silent system working to keep us healthy- the lymph system. Without it our bodies would swell up like balloons, swamping our cells with stagnant fluid. The lymph system's impact is so far reaching that many don't even realize that minor aches and pains, low energy or susceptibility to colds and flu may be due to a sluggish lymph system and a compromised immune system.
Lymph vessels make an intimate meshwork that covers every inch of your skin, and surrounds each organ in great detail. The lymph vessels start very small in what are called the initial lymphatic. Over 70% of the initial lymphatics are in and just under the skin. The initial lymphatic is a very delicate structure, one cell thick. Those cells are supported within the connective tissue by collagen and elastin fibers that help to anchor them in place. When the pressure within the interstitial space increases due to a buildup of fluid, or when the skin is slightly stretched, the filaments deform the wall of the initial lymphatic, opening it up. Then the interstitial fluid flows in and starts to move along the channel. At this point we start calling it lymph. Although only 2-3 liters of lymph is filtered through the lymph system per day, it is vital because it helps to remove proteins that that are too large to get back through the capillary wall. The spaces that open in the initial lymphatic are 4 to 6 times bigger than the spaces in the capillaries. Removal of protein is essential because they draw water to themselves, so excess protein in the interstitial spaces causes swelling or edema. The lymph vessels also collect dead cells, waste products, bacteria, viruses, inorganic substances, water and fats. By performing lymphatic drainage massage correctly, we can stimulate the opening of the initial lymphatic and increase the volume of lymph flow by as much as 20 times. But if we push too hard, we collapse the initial lymphatic, diminishing the lymph flow. Excessive pressure can even break the filaments that hold the initial lymphatic in place. This is one reason that deep styles of massage are contraindicated in areas of edema. Luckily if deep pressure has broken any filaments, they usually reform within 24 hours.After the lymph has entered the initial lymphatic, the lymph moves into a larger vessel called the pre-collector, and then into even larger vessels called the collectors. The collectors are 100-600 microns in diameter. These vessels have one way valves every 6- 20 mm that only allow the lymph to move in one direction. From one one-way-valve to the next is called a lymphangion. The lymphangions have a layer of smooth muscle that spirals around them. Angion means heart- so this is really the pump that pushes the lymph. Each lymphangion has an internal stretch sensor. The walls of the lymphangion stretch when they fill up with lymph, and then the stretch sensor tells the muscle to contract. This spiraling muscle contracts squeezing the lymph into the next chamber. This swells the next lymphangion, which then contracts, pushing the fluid down the line. At the same time the lymphangion is pushing the lymph forward, it also is creating a vacuum behind it. It is partly because of this vacuum effect that the lymph gets pulled into the initial lymphatic in the first place. Lymphatic Drainage Massage’s effectiveness lies in its ability to activate the stretch response, which significantly increases the pulsation rate of the lymphangions, increasing lymph flow through the vessel
Eventually, all lymph vessels lead to lymph nodes. Lymph nodes can be as small as the head of a pin, or as big as an olive. There are 400-700 lymph nodes in the body, half of which are located in the abdomen, and many are in the neck.The primary function of lymph nodes is to filter and purify the lymph. The lymph nodes produce various types of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes destroy harmful substances within the body, and are a big part of the immune system. The lymph nodes reabsorb about 40% of the liquid content of the lymph. This makes the lymph much thicker. Because of this thickening and the filtering process, the lymph nodes offer the greatest resistance to the flow of lymph. In fact the lymph nodes offer about 15 times more resistance than the vessels themselves. Lymphatic drainage can help overcome this resistance and get the lymph flowing.
Each cell is nourished by the nutrients, oxygen and proteins that flow across the walls of capillaries into the interstitial fluid. There is a dynamic balance between the forces that help those nutrients to first exit the capillaries, and then get reabsorbed back into the blood stream. Proteins play a big part in this transfer because they have a tendency to draw water to themselves. This means that the proper amounts of protein on both sides of the capillary wall are vital to keep the tissues balanced. If there are too many proteins within the interstitial spaces, fluid will start to accumulate, causing edema. The lymph system’s role of removing proteins is vital to keeping edema down. If the lymph system becomes sluggish, or is damaged by surgical removal of lymph nodes, edema can develop. This type of edema is called lymphostatic edema- or a high protein edema. Lymphatic drainage can be helpful in reducing this type of edema because the cause is a reduced functioning of the lymph system.Other causes of edema can be a chemical imbalance in the body caused by liver disease, diabetes, or a variety of other ailments.
Lymphatic drainage massage is a profound technique to help increase lymph flow. With an increase of lymph flow immune function is increased. Harmful substances are removed from the tissues and neutralized in the nodes. It has also been shown that an increase in lymph flow stimulates an increased production of lymphocytes- enhancing immune function. Lymphatic drainage can be applied to clients who are suffering from a lack of energy, or a sluggish immune system. Lymphatic drainage massage is also useful when working with clients who have sports injuries. Not only is lymphatic drainage useful for sports injuries, but it can also help scars. Lymph work has been shown to help the scarring process by enhancing circulation and immunity. As the lymph flow around the scar is increased, lymph vessels that have been damaged are stimulated to heal, and the increased lymph flow also draws away toxins, improving the health of the tissues. When the lymph is flowing, the cells are being bathed in fresh fluid, causing the skin to look fresh and alive. We have all experienced having minor edema in our faces- that puffy feeling and baggy eyes when we first wake in the morning after a long night. Usually after a few minutes of being vertical the lymph system starts to drain the face. A great way to see the power of lymph drainage is to apply a few strokes on one of those mornings, and watch in just a few minutes the tissues drain right before your eyes- leaving you looking vibrant and healthy.Another common use for lymph drainage massage is with women who have had breast cancer and had some axillary lymph nodes removed. Sometimes these people develop edema in their arm. If there is a great deal of swelling, then this is out of the scope of practice for a most massage therapists due to the need for bandaging. If the swelling is minor however, then a fully trained lymphatic drainage therapist working in conjunction with medical supervision can do a great amount of good.
For the most part lymphatic drainage massage is safe. With such a light touch, the danger of causing damage to the tissue is slim. However, there are a few conditions that are contraindicated, and these happen when an increase of lymph flow would be detrimental. It is a good idea to get clearance from your family doctor. Malignant tumors, Thrombosis and major heart problems are all contraindications to lymphatic drainage massage.