Some of the most relaxing and profound bodywork I’ve experienced is Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT). When I first entered the intro class, I went into it skeptical, but I left it with a very different take. After receiving several sessions in class, I felt lighter, refreshed and definitely curious to know more.
For those of you who may not be anatomy enthusiasts, or are otherwise unfamiliar with the lymphatic system, allow me to give you a little background. The lymphatic system is comprised of several parts working together: lymphatic fluid, vessels, nodes, and ducts. It also works hand in hand with the spleen and other glands. Of the many functions of this complex system, one of the main duties is maintaining fluid balance in the body. It does this in multiple ways:
- absorbing water and fluids and redistributing them (including immune cells) in the appropriate places
- constantly operating in a low to high-pressure field – meaning it keeps water in its channels when appropriate, or re-distributes it as needed
- re-absorbs cellular waste left behind by the blood, or that has otherwise escaped back into the interstitial spaces (a fancy word for no man’s land in the tissue)
Not just cellular wastes, but it also moves along other debris such as undigested lipids (fats), proteins, white blood cells, and hormones. It does this by squeezing and gently moving this debris up its vessels where it can be filtered, and then either reabsorbed back into the blood or expelled.
The body’s housekeeping manager:
Starting with collecting smaller items, gradually collecting into larger piles where it can be sorted, cleaned, or disposed of if it can’t be used, along with general ‘cleaning’ up after the other systems. Without the lymph system doing its job properly, our bodies would become so swollen and septic it could be fatal. In some ways, similar to not cleaning the house – it would become so dirty and infested we’d prefer to buy a new house.
Another important function of the lymphatic system is aiding in our immunity. After the debris is sucked into the lymph vessels, the next stop is in the lymph nodes. This is one of our first lines of defense, as they filter the fluid and decide if any found debris is a foreign substance, such as a bacteria or virus, and worthy of attack. If so, they will send in lymphocytes (white blood cells) to fight, which causes the nodes to temporarily increase in size. This is why the doctor checks our nodes under our chin to see if there is swelling or tenderness, as this would be a sign of fighting off an infection, or illness.
So now you might be asking, as I did had been, since all this is happening inside the body, how does it manually aid the system? It’s already draining. We already have this system in place. What else could it need?
Something I didn’t mention before is how small these systems parts are. While we may be able to see our veins or feel our pulse pumping blood, the vessels of the lymphatic system are quite small, and not as easily detectable. It also doesn’t have a ‘main’ pump, like our circulatory system has the heart, to help keep the fluid moving. This makes it easier for the liquid inside the vessels to become stagnant, sluggish, or sometimes stop moving (especially on days when the body has been chalk full of debris from fighting off an infection, or eating a particularly guilty meal, or generally not operating ideally).
Instead, they have tiny, oddly shaped muscles along the chain that create a squeezing motion to slowly move the fluid. But this action alone is not enough to move everything. In fact, it relies a great deal on our movement (walking), breathing, and muscular compression to help it along. This is where LDT comes in useful.
Going back to our housekeeping example. Imagine tidying your house. Some days, it’s a simple task. There aren’t many dishes to do, the bed is made, and the trash isn’t full. That’s an easy clean. Now imagine another day: you’re exhausted from long days at work, there are stacks of dishes, piles of laundry, and the trash needs to be taken out. It can be overwhelming!
Imagine at a time like this, you have someone come in to help you pick up, wash and put away your clothes, do your dishes, dust, vacuum, and take out the trash.
This is what experiencing LDT is like for your body. Yes, your body is fully capable of doing it on its own, but on days when it’s on overtime, and it still has a long way to go, it can be so incredibly helpful to have someone else take some of the workloads. Can you see how this significantly improves a person’s state of health?
So how does LDT work?
Like the example, it helps the body do what it’s already doing, more efficiently. The general idea is to detect, direct, and help the natural movement of the lymphatic fluid manually- essentially pushing the liquid in the direction it already goes to help clear any restrictions that may be impeding the flow. This is done with gentle, rhythmic pressure, and working with a whole hand in order to cover as much of the skin as possible to ensure the most drainage. It can be incredibly relaxing, not to mention profoundly effective.
When I first took this class, and laid my skeptical self on the table for a practice session, after a few minutes I remember feeling so relaxed I could have easily drifted off to sleep. I then felt an odd vacuum-like sensation, as if I could feel a suction happening a few inches away from the therapist’s hands. Overall, I felt comforted, relaxed, and to my surprise, wanting more. When I got off the table, I felt something hard to describe. A clear head and my body felt “cleaner.” As though I had been rinsed off inside. After receiving several sessions over the course of the class, I felt a change in my digestion and a slight increase in energy and mental focus. I all around felt better.
I became so intrigued by the complexity of the lymph system in relation to other anatomical structures and its many implications. In my advanced training, I developed the ability to detect and assess when things were not moving ideally and then help re-direct an individual’s lymphatics in order to restore it’s flow and rhythm. Say, for example, after a surgery where lymph nodes were removed: fluids that were accustomed to draining to the removed nodes were now caught in the middle and could become backed up and cause issues. Helping the vessels reroute with LDT makes it easier for the body to filter excess fluid and prevent swelling and infection.
In effect, LDT can make the natural movement of your lymph more efficient, keeping the body in tune, in balance, and allow more energy to focus on other tasks it needs to do. LDT can be an ideal treatment for a number of issues in the body. These include:
- Pre or post surgery for efficient recovery
- Pre or post sports event
- After cesarean section or natural birth
- Preventing mastitis in breastfeeding mothers, or helping to clear plugged milk ducts
- Working with fertility
- Post-mastectomy recovery
- General fatigue
- Muscle soreness and pain, cramps, and excess swelling
So, next time you’re feeling a little drained (pun intended), looking to treat yourself, or just feeling curious, come in and let someone else help clean up your internal house so you can leave feeling refreshed!
Caitlin Granier, LMT
Caitlin has a passion for helping others reconnect with the quiet language of the body. She uses deep listening skills to meet the body as the unique, intelligent system it is.