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The term “lymph” comes from the ancient Roman goddesses of fresh water; each was called a “lympha.” So the word has long been associated with water.
Lymphatic drainage massage encourages the body’s natural drainage of unneeded fluid via the lymphatic system. The technique helps carry waste products away from tissues to eliminate excess water in your body.
Up to 70 percent of the human body consists of water. It is present on both the insides and outsides of cells. When excess fluid accumulates in the tissues (which are groups of cells) or in body cavities, it is called water retention.
Symptoms of water retention include stiff joints, aches and tenderness in the extremities, enlarged feet and ankles, and weight gain.
One cause of water retention involves a problem with the body’s lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system includes a network of lymphatic vessels, which are microscopic, thin-walled, valved structures. These vessels carry a fluid called lymph through all parts of the body via the circulatory system.
When you’re healthy, the lymphatic system collects excess fluid from tissues via your lymph and lymphatic vessels. The system transports water-laden lymph through your blood vessels to the lymph nodes, which are in the groin, abdomen, underarms, and neck.
In the lymph nodes, lymph is relieved of excess fluid, which is then carried to your kidneys and eliminated as urine. From the lymph nodes, lymph moves on to the lymph ducts, from which it again flows throughout your body via your circulatory system.
Sometimes, however, the lymphatic system slows down. This is because unlike the circulatory system, through which the heart pumps blood, the lymphatic system has no pumping mechanism. Therefore, the movement of lymph may be regular and rapid, or sporadic and sluggish.
When the system is sporadic and sluggish, it’s unable to move lymph efficiently. Instead of being carried away by lymph, fluid accumulates around tissues, causing swelling in various body parts, particularly the abdomen, legs, ankles, and feet.
Water retention can occur in different body areas for different reasons. It may be that your diet includes too much sugar, salt, and carbohydrates. It may be that your body diet essential nutrients. It may be that you sit too much and exercise too little. It may be that you’ve recently been confined and unable to move around due to travel, such as an overseas airline trip, or illness. It may be that you don’t drink enough water. All of these things can affect the lymphatic system.
In addition, women may experience water retention during pregnancy or as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
A healthy lifestyle can help you minimize or even avoid retaining excess fluid in your body.
Health experts recommend several ways to avoid water retention. Note that some of these methods work better than others, some work for some people but not for others, and in the same person, some may work one week but not the next.
Physical activity is one of the most frequently recommended cures for water retention, particularly in the lower extremities. Aerobic movement stimulates the lymphatic system, making it more effective in sending liquids into the bloodstream. An exercise as simple as walking may improve circulation in the legs, helping your veins carry away excess fluids along with blood.
Diets rich in protein and low in sugar, sodium, and carbs can be effective in maintaining a beneficial water balance in your body.
Natural diuretics or water-removers are found in dandelion extract, green and black tea, and parsley.
Nutrients including vitamin B6, potassium, and magnesium can help reduce excess water retention. Walnuts and potatoes are rich in B6, beets and bananas are loaded with potassium, and beans, nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens are abundant in magnesium.
Massage to keep the lymphatic system working well is one of the most effective preventive measures against excess water gain, particularly when the affected area is massaged firmly but not harshly in the direction of the heart to help drain away fluid.
Lymphatic drainage massage is a gentle and non-invasive massage technique that uses light pressure to stimulate lymph vessels just beneath the skin. This stimulation encourages the movement of lymph throughout your body. As the lymph flows steadily and efficiently, it collects toxins and excess fluids, and it removes these from areas of the body that are retaining excess water.
A lymphatic drainage massage is a soothing experience, with movements that are light, rhythmic, and constant. The skin is touched with an almost imperceptible pressure. Benefits typically appear after two or three one-hour sessions.
A lymphatic drainage massage begins at the neck, moves towards the ears to the centre of the face and outward, and to the forehead.
The massage practitioner then applies light pressure to the hands and arms; moves to the feet, ankles, and legs; and finishes in the groin area.
A lymphatic drainage massage invigorates your lymphatic system and encourages circulation of lymph. The stimulation supports the lymph as it collects excess water and carries it away from affected areas.
In the feet and ankles—where water retention is frequently seen—lymph should flow readily upwards through the legs and towards the lymph nodes in the groin. However, if the system becomes sluggish due to inactivity, poor diet, or other causes, the force of gravity pulls the lymph downwards and back into the tissues of the ankles and feet. Excess fluid is not eliminated, and it floods the tissues of the feet and ankles, causing swelling.
A programme of lymphatic drainage massage will encourage the lymphatic system to fight against the force of gravity, so lymph flows upwards as it should, relieving excess water retention.
In the case of pregnancy and PMS, hormonal changes slow down lymph movement. Lymphatic drainage massage can be used as a preventive measure against excess fluid accumulation, beginning in the third month of pregnancy and continuing until delivery. For PMS, it should be undertaken immediately after the end of your cycle and continued for at least a week.
The result of lymphatic drainage massage goes beyond the alleviation of water retention. Additional benefits include enhancement of your overall sense of wellbeing, so you feel cleansed and rejuvenated. In addition, the soothing touch of lymphatic drainage massage will leave you serene and relaxed.
“A massage . . . isn’t an indulgence, it’s an investment in your full creative expression/productivity/passion and sustained good health,” says Robin Sharma, best-selling Canadian writer and leadership speaker.
Filipino industrialist Andrew Tan agrees, “A massage is very important.”
And American actress and fashion model Andie MacDowell affirms, “We look so amazing after a massage.”