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We hear about lymphatic drainage massage “flushing out toxins” but what the heck does that mean and how does this modality influence our health? Is it necessary to see a lymphatic or soft tissue expert for daily maintenance and immunity support, or can we as everyday people boost ourselves with a little quick self-care?

DISCLAIMER: If you have any medical conditions that affect your lymph nodes or heart such as cancer, congestive heart failure, lymphedema, etc. please consult your doctor before you attempt any lymphatic drainage techniques on yourself.

Now, before we get into the ways we can practice draining our bodies of nasty toxin build-up, we should appreciate the complexity of how and why our bodies work to keep us healthy.

 

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is a network of drainage vessels found superficially throughout and deep within the body as seen in the family picture above.

This system is integral to the optimal functioning of our immune system. 

Dysfunction of the lymphatic system can be attributed to lack of movement throughout the day,  dehydration, processed foods, stress, or chemical exposure from cleaning or body care products.

Any of the following can occur if your lymph system is not functioning properly:

    • Fatigue
    • Pressure, pain, stiffness along the spine or shoulders
    • Headaches
    • Tinnitus
    • Bloating or heaviness in the limbs
    • Itchy or dry skin
    • Frequent sore throats
    • Swelling
    • Infection
    • Inflammation

What our lymphatic system does:

  • Maintains normal blood volume and pressure
  • Prevents edema (or, swelling)
  • Transports white blood cells, nutrients, proteins, and minerals through the bloodstream to the soft tissues

In the next sections, we’ll cover 4 quick and easy ways to promote lymphatic health.

 

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing for Lymphatic Drainage

 

As you inhale your:

  • Diaphragm flattens
  • Pelvic floor lowers
  • Rib cage expands

As you exhale your:

  • Pelvic floor rises
  • Diaphragm settles back into its natural dome shape
  • Rib cage contracts

See the clip below to understand the proper way to breathe, à la Dr.Shakib style!

This rising and falling of intra-abdominal pressure massages your organs and stimulates the deeper lymphatic structures, improving blood and lymph flow within your abdominal cavity.

This type of breathing also slows the heartbeat, can lower or stabilize blood pressure and encourages full oxygen exchange which increases blood oxidation.

How to do it: 

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose and let the air fill down towards your pelvic floor, expanding your abdominal cavity.
  • Breathe out slowly through pinched lips, contracting your abdominal muscles as you let the air out.

That’s all there is to it.

It’s best to do this laying on a flat surface with your knees bent or sitting upright with your knees bent and your head/neck/shoulders relaxed.

You can place both hands in the space between the edges of your ribcage and the top of your hip bones to feel your breath expand your abdominal cavity.Your shoulders should not rise as you are breathing and your chest should maintain a neutral position.

A quick way to make this a habit is by taking at least 3 deep breaths every hour, and/or practicing diaphragmatic breaths for 5 minutes before bed and after waking up. I suggest you use this Breathing Exercises playlist to get started! 

2. Move Your Lymph with Rebound Exercise

 

“Rebounding” is essentially jumping or bouncing.

girl jumping

Lymph fluid runs mostly vertical through its one-direction check valve system.

For this reason, it is believed that the ongoing compression and relaxation of the soft tissue creates a pumping effect that activates lymphatic drainage and flow.

You can try:

  • jumping jacks
  • gentle bouncing on a mini-trampoline or on a large bouncy ball 
  • skipping rope
  • running in place 
  • dancing
  • voluntary laughing (youtube laughing meditation—IT’S REAL!);

These activities are fun and straightforward, with some causing minimal stress on your joints and all of these activities encouraging profound breathing.

You can start with 5 minutes a day, working up to 20-30 minutes a session.

 

3. Dry Brushing for Lymphatics

 

Dry brushing is a type of body massage conducted with a natural stiff-bristled dry brush; it aids in skin exfoliation and detoxification, stimulates the nervous system, and increases blood circulation.

dry brushing guide

This method can be included as part of a spa treatment or done by yourself in the comfort of your home with a long-handled brush following the diagram above.

BE ADVISED: Those with thin or sensitive skin may want to use a dry washcloth instead to avoid unnecessary inflammation or disturbance. Skip over areas with open wounds, rashes, severe acne, or active skin infections to reduce the spread of germs on your skin.

How to do it:

  • Use medium pressure and alternate between short and long strokes
  • Start on your left side from the feet and ankles up to the knee
  • Then from the knee to the top of your thigh
  • And from the glutes to your low back
  • Repeat on your right leg
  • Move on to your torso—long sweeps up your back and upward circular motions from your pelvis up to your ribcage
  • Continue with the left hand and forearm to the elbow
  • From the elbow to the shoulder
  • Repeat with the right arm
  • Using a lighter pressure, brush from your jawline down your neck to your collarbones
  • Finish off by brushing your chest in circular motions toward your heart and then jump in the shower!

For an added boost, throw in some…..

 

4. Promote Lymphatic Drainage with Alternating Hydrotherapy

 

Cold water to the rescue!man in shower

This is probably the easiest albeit most unsettling of all the methods: taking a hot shower followed by a cold water rinse and doing it again two or three times in one sitting. 

Alternating the temperatures between hot and cold will train and enforce the vessels to adapt to the dilation and constriction reflexes that imitate the ‘pumping’ action of circulation.

  • Hot water will dilate blood vessels, reduce stress, and help you to relax.
  • Cold water will cause your lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymph fluids to pump throughout your body, flushing the waste out of the area, and triggering the immune system’s white blood cells to attack and destroy any foreign substances in the fluid.

And that’s it!

It’s easy to blend one into the other; you can start with rebounding, then dry-brushing before your hydrotherapy shower, and practice your diaphragmatic breathing while you’re under that cold water flow.

You can mix and match these methods to suit your needs. The takeaway here is to compress and relax your body to get a pumping action going; your lymphatic and immune systems will thank you for it.

Be safe and have fun,

– Lex

Lex Alvarado has over 14 years of experience working with patients, collaborating care to improve pain and posture. She is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and neuromuscular massage (CNMT) and is a Board certified massage therapist (CAMTC).
– Dr. Shakib, your Irvine Posture Chiropractor