The significance and impact of the lymphatic system on our overall state of health is often overlooked. Truth be told, many of us don’t know much about it at all, aside from it having something to do with the little nodes around our neck, armpits and groin which can swell when we’re not feeling well. But what exactly is the lymphatic system, and why might it need draining? 

A simplified way to think of it is as the body’s natural detox system, removing waste and toxins from our bodies. It does this by transporting lymph, a fluid containing nutrients and oxygen through the body. As it travels, lymph collects toxins from our cells along the way. The fluid is then filtered through our lymph nodes by infection-fighting white blood cells, and what is left drains back into our bloodstream to be eliminated. This process of detoxification is what makes the lymphatic system so vital to our overall immunity. After all, if your body is flushing out the bad stuff efficiently, the chances of you suffering from infections and viruses will be reduced.

It’s clear, then, that a poorly functioning lymphatic system can have noticeable implications on how we feel. Stiffness, fatigue, dry skin, bloating, water retention, brain fog, swollen glands, chronic sinusitis, sore throats, cold hands and feet…These all serve as indicators that our lymphatic systems are not up to scratch and working as efficiently as they could be. 

In order for waste products and fluids to not accumulate (often referred to as toxin buildup), lymph must flow freely throughout our bodies. However, sometimes it needs a little help, and that’s where lymphatic drainage treatments step in. 

Lymphatic drainage massages have become increasingly popular here in the UK, but the dialogue surrounding these treatments places a strong focus on the aesthetic benefits such as reduced cellulite and glowing skin. While these are great side-effects, the internal benefits are even more impressive. A lymphatic drainage massage will help you feel more energised and improve your digestion, circulation and metabolic rate (so that you can burn calories more efficiently). It will also reduce bloating and water retention, alleviate constipation and help you sleep better too. 

“Cellulite aside, there are far more incentives to pay attention to your lymphatic system,” says Flavia Morellato, a physiotherapist who specialises in lymphatic drainage massage. Flavia has been practising for 8 years and started her career in Brazil, where lymphatic drainage is highly recommended after any kind of surgery in order to speed up the healing process, detox your body after anaesthetic and reduce swelling and bruising. She’s now accumulated somewhat of a cult-following including doctors, physicians and Victoria’s Secret models who all want to look and feel better.

A one-hour treatment will see a therapist manually manipulate the flow of lymph through the body, giving it a helping hand with long, sweeping, repetitive strokes focusing on the arms, armpits, stomach, back, and legs. These are always motioned towards the heart so that the fluid speedily enters the bloodstream before eventually being flushed out. “Lymphatic massage can achieve in one hour, what your body would take 72 hours to do if left to its own devices,” Flavia says. Post-treatment, you’ll instantly feel lighter and very thirsty, so you’ll need to drink around 2 litres of water throughout the rest of the day to ensure your body continues to flush out all of the toxins through your urine. 

Everyday tips for supporting your lymphatic system:

  • Drink water. Lymph comes from the word “lympha” which means freshwater, so think if your lymphatic system as a river which needs to be kept clean and flowing. Aim to drink around 0.035ml of water for every kg of your body mass (perhaps a little more if you’re exercising). Don’t overdo it though, as our kidneys are equipped to filter a certain amount of water per day and excessive amounts can overload them.
  • Exercise. Moving on a regular basis will help lymph fluid to flow around our bodies and to the all-important nodes which serve to filter it, so that waste products don’t build up in our tissues.  
  • Breathe. Deep breathing requires movement of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, and this helps push lymph through our vessels. Laughter also does the trick!

If you have any medical conditions, it’s best to talk to a doctor before trying a lymphatic massage.

words by Eva Ramirez

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