Lymphatic drainage: Is it working? And how to do it yourself

Scroll through TikTok and Instagram long enough and you’ll likely see someone shaving, brushing, or massaging their skin for better health or better looks. There’s a lot of testimonies – about body shaving to loosen stiff limbs, gua sha for sculpting lines, vibrating face massagers to reduce puffiness, dry brushing to “detox”. Such posts have garnered tens of millions of views on TikTok in recent years, with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle Macpherson attesting to their effectiveness.

All of these trendy techniques focus on the same concept: promoting the circulation of a colorless, colorless fluid called lymph, which carries white blood cells to and from your organs. body and transport waste from cells and tissues to the lymph nodes, where it is filtered. and returned to the blood. The sweeping motion of dry brushing – where you have to brush the stiff bristle brush in small circles all over your body – and the pulsating strokes of the facial massager work to gently remove any potential blockages in the flow lymph. Gua sha, in which you scrape a stone or metal tool along the contours of your face; body scraping, which is a full body version of gua sha that uses the same tools; and jade rolling, in which you roll a circular stone tool across your face, are techniques that push or drain lymph fluid toward the lymph nodes, where it is filtered and then returned to the bloodstream.

The omission in the testimonies answers several key questions: Do these practices really stimulate lymph flow? And if so, what results can you really expect?

According to Shan Liao, associate professor of immunology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, in many ways, the lymphatic system is the underappreciated brother of the circulatory system, which is lesser known and less studied. compared with immunology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. But it is essential for proper immune function and cellular health. Dr Liao said lymph naturally accumulates in the body’s tissues and then moves through a complex network of vessels into the lymph nodes, which act as a filtration system before the fluid returns to the bloodstream. .

Lymph isn’t pumped like blood — “we don’t have a lymphatic heart,” she says, although the lymphatic vessels beat a little. They can also rely on the pulse of their blood vessels, using that force to help with movement. But the flow of lymph is mainly created when we breathe, stretch and move.

When lymph fluid doesn’t move through the vessels correctly, it can build up in the body’s tissues, leading to swelling or lymphedema, Dr. This can lead to tightness or heaviness in your limbs, limited movement, and changes in skin thickness or color. Lymphedema is primarily a problem in cancer patients and those about to have surgery, because lymphatic vessels can be blocked by tumors or damaged by radiation therapy and incisions can cut off blood vessels. their connection. Also, about one in 100,000 people have genes that predispose them to developing chronic lymphedema during childhood or early adulthood. Swelling from any kind of lymphatic buildup can make people more susceptible to recurrent infections, especially when left untreated, says Dr. Liao, because immune cells can’t move efficiently to their goals.

For most people in general good health, adequate lymph flow will continue whether or not you take measures to take care of your lymphatic system.

However, generations of alternative medicine practices – from traditional Chinese medicine to natural healing to Ayurveda – have used lymphatic massage techniques to “restore balance” to the body. and enhance immune function in healthy individuals. While they’re not absolutely necessary for most people to stay healthy, these methods are ways to stay healthy, says Dr. Melissa Ventimiglia, an assistant professor of family medicine at the New York Institute. You are attuned to the natural fluctuations of your body. College of Osteopathic Medicine Technology in Old Westbury, NY They can also have an immediate, though temporary, effect on your skin.

Yumi Ridsdale, a Chinese medicine practitioner in Ontario, Canada, says lymphatic involvement in traditional Chinese medicine dates back 2,000 years. “Of course they don’t use the word ‘lymphatic system’ – they don’t have such a word,” but traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of lymph circulation and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners now Modern people often incorporate gua sha, body shaving, and dry brushing into their treatments.

Academic studies on how well these techniques work are scarce and tend to be limited by small sample sizes. Existing research suggests that a related technique called manual lymphatic drainage massage, in which therapists gently massage and tap certain body parts to encourage movement and drainage lymphatic, effective for decrease swelling in cancer patients. Other research, although limited, shows that gua sha and face massage roller can increase blood circulation and oxygen supply to the skinrequired for the growth of new cells.

Dr. Ventimiglia says massaging your lymph nodes can help stimulate its flow and prevent feelings of “body congestion” — especially after sleeping or sitting for long periods of time. You can also notice immediate changes in your skin and face – reducing puffiness or looking more like a sculpt – with gua sha or similar techniques, Ms. Ridsdale says, though these effects are only lasts up to several hours.

The keys to healthy lymphatic health are the same as those that apply to your health in general: be physically active, eat healthy, breathe deeply. When it comes to the lymphatic drainage system, and all the massage tools and techniques involved, use them if you like them, says Dr.

You can massage your face and body with just your fingertips, knuckles, or palms, or with a roller, scraper, or dry brush. The best rule of thumb for the body is to start at your toes and fingertips and move towards your core. When dry brushing, use small circular motions all over your limbs and abdomen.

When massaging the face, do it from the midline of the face and move up and out. Some people pull their knuckles across the jawline or cheekbones, others recommend pushing the heels of your hands over the sides of your mouth and rolling them toward your temples (imagine your hands doing worm as it pushes up towards your ear).

Because lymphatic vessels have one-way valves, the entire network can only flow in one direction, says Dr. Ventimiglia, so you should massage in the same direction as your existing lymph flow. Massaging against the natural flow isn’t necessarily harmful, but neither is it helpful, she says.

If you’re not sure which direction to massage, “you can easily find out about a lymphatic map from YouTube or a book, it’s not that hard,” Ms. Ridsdale says. Even Martha Stewart’s Website have a guide. But remember that “more is not better,” she adds. Ten to 20 minutes on any area is more than enough to get things flowing.

Ms Ridsdale said: “There are also a few large lymph nodes that you can help with with gentle pressure: In the armpits, above the collarbone, in the groin and the space under the ears and behind the jaw. Helping the lymph is a way for you to take some time to think about how your body feels at any given moment, says Ridsdale, adding that in her view, “everyone should do it. “.

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