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Lymphatics 101

Let’s talk about lymph because I believe it’s time to talk about it more!!

There is still much to be discovered and understood about the lymphatic system. For the past year, I’ve been studying Manual Lymphatic Drainage and I am on my way to get certified in it… (this is currently on pause due to the current state of the union).

What is the lymphatic transport system? It’s the brita filter of the blood. It plays a crucial role in the circulation of fluids in the body. Interstitial fluid or lymphatic load is the fluid that accumulates in the body. This is mostly composed of cellular waste, plasma proteins, toxins, cancer cells, dyes, coals, dissolved gases, and other pathogens. The lymphatic system protects the body from substances that are foreign or no longer recognized as self. The lymphatic system consists of immunity response (B Cells & T Cells) and collector vessels that transport interstitial fluid into the lymph nodes to be broken down. The deep lymphatic vessels are pumped by muscular movement and do not have their own pump (like the blood has the heart). This is why movement is so important. Our fluids need to circulate and be filtered peeps!

What is Manual Lymphatic Drainage? It is a specific form of manual therapy that uses an ounce of pressure of purposeful touch to stimulate the flow of superficial lymphatic vessels. The stretch is applied toward a specific lymph node or group of ducts. It is slow and very repetitive. The benefits of MLD are numerous. First and foremost in increases the volume of lymph in an area, which  in turn increases the removal of toxin and cellular waste. This means that it increases the activity of lymphocytes and indirectly stimulates the circulatory system. It is applicable for overall sense of wellness, detox from exposure of medication (chelation or chemotherapy), prevention and immunity boost, regeneration for improving the condition of the skin. MLD is especially applicable to reduce edema or fluid retention and bloating from pregnancy, surgery, being overweight, or PMS.

Why is MLD important? Lymphatic Drainage is crucial to the prevention of profound systemic edema. The lymphatic system has no “pump” such as the heart moving the blood. Deep vessels rely on muscular motion to move fluid. The superficial vessels (closer to the skin) are directly affected and stimulated easier through the application of manual lymphatic drainage.

What is Lymphedema? First we must understand that there are different types of edema (swelling/pooling of liquids)

Lymphodynamic Edema is where MLD therapists can apply their techniques. This means that the functioning lymphatics are overwhelmed. It consists of low protein caused by high-volume of fluid flooding the tissue (from trauma or surgery).

Lymphostatic Edema or Lymphedema is when lymphatics are not functioning properly; it consists of high protein edema where fluids, drawn by the protein molecule, accumulate gradually and remain in the tissue. Therapists with only an MLD practice CANNOT treat lymphedema. To receive MLD these patients MUST see a CERTIFIED LYMPHEDEMA THERAPIST or CLT. Some Massage Therapists are CLT, however, they have to undergo a more rigorous training and certification process than MLD therapists.

(Lymphedema can present) Pathology Stats: -at birth or begins at puberty, later also possible -affects both women (87%) and men (13%) -genetic -usually affects lower extremities -often bilateral  -can take YEARS to diagnose (onset usually gradual) -lymph node dissection and radiation therapy- cancer treatment -trauma or accidents (lacerations, burns, bone fractures where the surrounding lymphatic structure is damaged) -obesity (LE presentation)  

“At Risk Factors” for post Cancer treatments: -extended air travel (decompression of cabin) -extended rigorous activity -hot baths/sauna -puncture wounds/infection -blood pressure readings on affected limb -massage

Treatment for Lymphedema is maintenance. There is currently no cure. Treatments used are manual lymphatic drainage, compression garments (day, night, even when swimming), and compassion. To really be able to help others, we need to put ourselves in their place and meet them on a common ground of understanding. Lymphedema is a difficult condition to manage. Patients with lymphedema benefit from treatment providers who are not only qualified, but have dedicated their work to improving their quality of life.

I encourage you to be aware of your lymphatics. Tracking your moods and fatigue level can make a huge impact on daily energy and overall sense of well being. Making sure you have an outlet for physical activity that you enjoy do circulate the blood and lymph. Visit your health care provider for routine check ups. As always, stay safe and healthy!

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