Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT) is a gentle hands on treatment that maps your lymph flow and encourages improvements where there is congestion.
Varous styles of lymphatic drainage massage have been developed since the mid 1800’s, starting with osteopath A.T. Still. Bruno Chikly, MD and osteopath (France), teaches Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT) practitioners to map exactly the “specific rhythm, pressure, quality and direction of the lymph flow”. There is an emphasis on deep lymph pathways first, and then superficial. The intent is to add an extra level of precision, and to work with rather than on the body to support recalibration of lymph pathways.
How does my Lymphatic System keep me healthy?
1. Lymph helps blood remove wastes from cells, and to maintain tissue fluid balance
Lymphatic vessels are the third part of your circulatory system, next to arteries and veins. Like blood vessels, they transport fluid – though only in one direction, from your cells back to your heart.
The blood circuit
- Large vessels leave the heart (“arteries”) and divide into smaller and smaller vessels until they are so tiny that the vessel wall is only one cell thick (“capillaries”).
- Nutrients and oxygen can move easily out into extracellular fluid and into cells where are taken up and used. By-products of cell metabolism can also return easily into blood capillaries.
- Capillaries converge into larger and larger blood vessels (“veins”) to return blood to the heart.
- Your heart as a pump/vortex keeps blood moving & maintains blood pressure.
The Lymph one way backup
Blood needs a back up drainage system. This is because ~95% of what needs to leave the cells and tissues is taken up directly into the blood. The other ~5% is taken up by the open ended one way lymph vessel system — a bit like a microscopic vacuum.
Lymph capillaries tend to take up more of large proteins, bacteria, viruses & junk than blood capillaries. Lymph fluid is otherwise a lot like blood with almost no red blood cells (RBC).
Lymph vessels also merge into larger and larger vessels and return towards the heart, though not quite all the way. Just behind the inner ⅓ of your collar bones, they make a T-junction with large veins just before they meet your heart.
2. Lymph is a major player in your immune system
Aside from having almost no RBC, another important difference between blood and lymph is that lymph contains many more lymphocytes than blood.
Lymphocytes are the white blood cells (WBC) that give you “acquired immunity”. They either destroy pathogens (disease causing organisms — bacteria, viruses etc) directly, or tag them for destruction by other immune cells.
Lymph nodes also contain many lymphocytes and other immune cells. Your body has between 400 and 700 lymph nodes, distributed in line at strategic places along your lymph vessels.
As lymph travels through these nodes, lymphocytes and other immune cells do their thing – tagging, destroying and dismantling “invading pathogens”. This way, by the time lymph re-mixes with your blood, pathogens are reduced or eliminated.
There are large collections of lymph nodes around your neck and throat, deep in your chest and abdomen, and in your armpits and groin.
What keeps my lymph moving?
It is a big fat juicy myth that your lymphatic system has no propulsion system of its own, and that it relies entirely on your muscle activity to squeeze it along.
Lymph flow does benefit from your movement, but the compression action of your muscles are only part of what keeps your lymph flowing.
- Like veins, medium and larger vessels have valves to prevent reverse lymph flow.
- Lymph vessels also have a muscular layer. As lymph fills an individual segment between valves, the muscular wall contracts — squeezing that lymph towards your heart. This muscular pump is called a “lymphangion” or “lymph heart”. The combined effect of all the lymphangions is a co-ordinated and rhythmic flow of lymph towards your heart.
- Activity and exercise stimulates lymphangion activity generally
- Lymphatic Drainage Therapy targets specific areas where your lymphatic system is not flowing well.
How can I look after my Lymphatic System?
In a general sense, all of the usual ways would keep yourself physically well and healthy will benefit your Lymphatic System:
- Be Active — activity stimulates blood and lymph flow, directly and indirectly.
- Eat Well — lean towards fresh, local, seasonal, organic/spray free.
- Be Well Hydrated — in general, 1L water per 30kg body weight is ideal.
- Be Well Rested — sleep is a time for regeneration.
To get more specific
- Seek out a Lymphatic Drainage Therapy practitioner
- Learn some self lymphatic drainage techniques. Here is my first self lymphatic drainage handout for General Lymphatic System activation. I’ll update the blog links as Deep and Superfical LD PDF’s are added. Sign up for the newsletter if you’d like to be notified.
How can Lymphatic Drainage Therapy help me?
In practice, I use LDT as one part of a holistic approach to treatment. I use it where I can feel that lymphatic flow is reduced or altered.
Circumstances where I find myself using LDT in treatment include helping people who have old injuries, chronic stiffness, scars (past surgery, skin and muscle grafts or injury), past inflammation, poor posture or posture and movement compensations.
Potential uses and benefits are broad, which makes sense when you consider that the lymphatic system serves basiclaly the entire body. If you have any questions about how LDT might benefit you, be in touch.
(1) SW Chikly pp4-12