LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE MASSAGE
Within us all there is a silent system working to keep us healthy- the lymph system. Without it our bodies would swell up like balloons, swamping our cells with stagnant fluid. The lymph system's impact is so far reaching that many don't even realize that minor aches and pains, low energy or susceptibility to colds and flu may be due to a sluggish lymph system and a compromised immune system. In this article we’ll discuss the anatomy of the lymph system, what happens during edema and how lymph drainage massage can help, as well as contraindications to lymphatic massage.
Lymph vessels make an intimate meshwork that covers every inch of your skin, and surrounds each organ in great detail. The lymph vessels start very small in what are called the initial lymphatic. Over 70% of the initial lymphatics are in and just under the skin. The initial lymphatic is a very delicate structure, one cell thick. Those cells are supported within the connective tissue by collagen and elastin fibers that help to anchor them in place. When the pressure within the interstitial space increases due to a buildup of fluid, or when the skin is slightly stretched, the filaments deform the wall of the initial lymphatic, opening it up. Then the interstitial fluid flows in and starts to move along the channel. At this point we start calling it lymph. Although only 2-3 liters of lymph is filtered through the lymph system per day, it is vital because it helps to remove proteins that that are too large to get back through the capillary wall. (Guyton and Hall, Human Physiology and Mechanisms of Disease, 6th edition, W.B Saunders Company, Philadelphia, 1997, page 139) The spaces that open in the initial lymphatic are 4 to 6 times bigger than the spaces in the capillaries. Removal of protein is essential because they draw water to themselves, so excess protein in the interstitial spaces causes swelling or edema. The lymph vessels also collect dead cells, waste products, bacteria, viruses, inorganic substances, water and fats.
By performing lymphatic drainage massage correctly, we can stimulate the opening of the initial lymphatic and increase the volume of lymph flow by as much as 20 times. But if we push too hard, we collapse the initial lymphatic, diminishing the lymph flow
Excessive pressure can even break the filaments that hold the initial lymphatic in place. This is one reason that deep styles of massage are contraindicated in areas of edema. Luckily if deep pressure has broken any filaments, they usually reform within 24 hours.