Absolutely everything! And yet, most people have no idea what their lymphatic system does and how important it is to your everyday life.
Your lymphatic system is your first line of defense against infection. When pathogens enter your system, eg, cold or flu virus, the lymphatic system kicks into gear, filtering out as many of the invading germs as possible. At the same time T cells, B cells and natural killer cells are produced which are released throughout the body to "wipe up" the germs that managed to escape. (Obviously this is a very simplistic explanation.) When you're sick and go to the doctor one of the first things they do is check to see if your glands are up - basically, what they are checking is to see if the lymphatic system has started it's job of protecting the body by producing extra antibodies - the nodes swell in response to the extra activity. They may check your neck, armpit or groin area. Remember in the last post I talked about clearing the main collections of nodes? Those three areas are included when you are doing your own clearing. They are also the easiest and most prominent collections to feel or see.
So, in relation to the immune system - what's lymphatic drainage good for?
- Those who have been "under the weather" and can't seem to get on top of it
- Those with immune disorders, eg, chronic fatigue, glandular fever (or Mono to those in the USA), or chronic conditions such as asthma (note, treatment cannot be given during a flare up of any condition)
Another big function of the lymphatic system is to remove interstitial fluid from tissue. In simple terms the blood capillaries pick up waste material from tissue but they are not big enough to remove protein molecules so the lymphatic capillaries carry out that job. If the lymphatics are not working properly and the protein isn't removed from the tissue, the result is fluid collecting in the tissue. The result? Swelling or odema. Not pleasant.
In relation to fluid, what's lymphatic drainage good for?
- Reducing fluid retention post surgery, sprain/strain/bruising
- Reducing symptoms of any fluid-related condition, eg, sinus (again, treatment cannot be administered during an infection, but once the acute phase is passed then it is very beneficial)
- Lymphedema in all it's forms, whether primary (usually inherited, it can appear at birth, during the teenage years or may come on later in adulthood) or secondary (after some sort of trauma to the nodes - surgery, radiation, accidents)
The lymphatic system is also your detoxification system. As mentioned earlier, the lymph carries away waste products from the tissue to the elimination organs - kidneys in particular. So it is very helpful alongside any detoxification programs being undertaken.
Lymphatic drainage can help to normalise hormones, helping to reduce acne, or painful periods. It can also help with hormone related headaches.
There are however, some absolute contra-indications to having lymphatic drainage and at the first consult with every client I see I take a detailed history. Anyone with cardiac or renal insufficiency cannot be treated. I will treat clients with other heart or kidney conditions, but depending on the case I will insist on a doctor's referral. If you're in the acute phase of an illness (ie, you're running a temperature, are absolutely streaming with snot, or have a raging rash) it is not advisable to have manual treatment of any type.
Who do I see most? Women who have been through breast cancer mainly, but also melanomas, cervical or other gynecological cancers. Some come along pre and post surgery. Sinus issues present themselves fairly regularly too. I also see clients who are on a detox diet or regime, who want a little extra cleansing. And there are some who come along just because they find it relaxing and it keeps their immune system in check.