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What is "Lymph"? Does It Wear Tights?

One of the things we offer here at Freed Bodyworks is “manual lymph drainage”. The odds are good you have no idea what that is.

Remember back to high school biology and the diagrams of the body where the different subsystems (digestive, circulatory, nervous, etc.) were done in color? Usually the green one is the lymphatic system.

As far as bodily systems go, it’s the Rhode Island of the body (with apologies to the fine people of the Ocean State – all 27 of you). You rarely think about it, may have trouble finding it on a map, and aren’t exactly sure what it produces or why people love to live there. Let’s try a somewhat tortured analogy to help you understand why you are actually thrilled that you have a lymphatic system.

Imagine you live in a rowhouse. Like townhouses, they share a wall with houses on either side.

When you need things – food, toilet paper, clothing – you go out (via the road system), get the necessaries, and bring them home through the front door. You use those necessaries until they are all used up. Then you bundle any waste or excess into a trash bag and carry it out the back door to the alleyway. A wonderful service called “trash collection” picks it up and whisks it away.

Now imagine that the lovely road system is your circulatory system (arteries, veins, capillaries). The house is a cell in your body. The “road system” brings in all the necessaries your cells need – nutrients, fluids, etc. When your cell is done consuming all those necessaries, the waste or excess is picked up by your lymphatic system and whisked away.

Unlike the human trash removal system, there are no lymphatic landfills. Instead – more like a waste water management system – your cellular excess does through a multi-step filtration process (that’s where your lymph nodes come in) to get it down to water, which is fed back into your circulatory system.

What happens if your lymphatic system isn’t up to the job and can’t carry that excess and waste away? Well, what happens when trash collection doesn’t happen? And maybe doesn’t happen for days or weeks at a time? Your cells won’t smell as bad as your alleyway but it’s still not going to be pretty. What you often get is swelling. And pain. And discoloration and skin irritation (or worse) if it goes on long enough.

That’s part of why it’s a Big Hairy Deal if you have lymph nodes removed during cancer treatment or get lymphedema. You’ve just impaired your cellular trash collection system.

The good news is that there is a hands-on therapy called “manual lymph drainage” that can make a big difference to your lymphatic system. And we’ve got therapists trained in it!

The work may surprise you. It’s unbelievably light and it’s done on the surface of your skin. No digging in and definitely no elbows! The first point of collection of lymph (that is easily accessible) is actually in your epidermis. Remember those jokes from junior high? “Your epidermis is showing!”

When a therapist wants to unclog the lymph vessels, the therapist very very very gently (did I mention it’s done oh so gently?) stretches the most external layer of your skin. Depending on your condition, the therapist may work in a very small area – just your knee, for example – or may work an entire limb or your entire body.

The challenge to the work is not the pressure. It’s having the patience and the knowledge to apply the right pressure in the right places in the right direction to help your lymph fluid move along.

When would you and your lovely lymphatic system need a little push from a qualified therapist?

  • Do your legs swell in the summer heat, after time on an airplane, or when you spend too much time on your feet?

  • Are you going to have surgery and want to make sure your body is in primo shape for it?

  • Did you just have surgery and want to help your body clear out afterwards?

  • Do you have bruising from injury, surgery, or just a good time that needs to get moving?

  • Are you experiencing inflammation in a joint from injury or arthritis or a chronic condition like fibromyalgia?

For many people, manual lymph drainage is just the thing they didn’t know they needed and are ecstatic to learn is an option. Are you one of those people?

If you’ve got questions or concerns, contact Kelly Bowers, our therapist with lymph drainage experience. She’s taking even more advanced training this spring and is looking forward to being able to offer it for an even broader range of conditions, situations, and bodily realities.

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