Our Body’s First Line of Defense

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, March 15, 2017
By Eldeliza I. Quevedo

Living a modern life involves plenty of sitting hours. When you’re busy working at the office – or commuting to and from – you’re sitting. When you meet up with loved ones for a night out at a restaurant or event, you’re sitting. When you’re relaxing at home, watching a movie or reading a book, very often, you’re still sitting.

Well, what’s so wrong with sitting?

It isn’t an immediate threat to our well-being, but we now know that our bodies were designed for movement and are, in fact, particularly well-suited to walking. We’ve come to recognize that prolonged sitting can cause various aches and pains – often lower back pain and neck or shoulder tension. However, this lack of movement can also affect our lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is essentially our body’s line of defense against bacteria, viruses, and other toxins. A network of tissues and organs, it primarily transports about 10-20% of the body’s fluid from surrounding cells and tissues to the lymph vessels – where the fluid becomes lymph and is joined by white blood cells. From there, the lymph travels to the lymph nodes where it is filtered and, eventually, the lymph is directed towards the heart – where it joins the path of the circulatory system – and is delivered to the liver and kidneys for detoxification and elimination.

Unlike the circulatory system which has the heart to pump blood throughout the body, the lymphatic system relies on muscle movement to move the lymph through its vessels. These vessels are a one-way system containing valves to prevent back flow – similar to how veins are designed. If fluid accumulation proceeds without sufficient elimination, swelling may occur. The system itself is also by nature a bit sluggish, not having the same demands to meet as the heart and its blood vessels.

Another important factor for proper lymphatic function is deep rest. The organs of the lymphatic system along with the Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue (GALT), another important component of the immune system, are best engaged during times of deep breathing and relaxation … such as when you’re having a good night’s sleep.

Chronic stress – which may disrupt the body’s ability to rest sufficiently – combined with constant and prolonged periods of sitting may potentially affect the optimal functioning of the lymphatic system.

In my practice, the two complaints I hear most are precisely those: people aren’t moving as much as they’d like to, and they’re chronically stressed. I work with my clients to help them alleviate their lower back pain from sitting, their neck pain from tension due to staring at a computer all day, their poor quality of sleep from constant stress, and much more. However, I also work with them in maintaining their wellness by providing Lymphatic Drainage and Lymphatic Facials.

Lymphatic Drainage is a type of massage which engages the lymphatic vessels in order to help move any accumulated fluid in the body through the lymphatic system. It is a very gentle type of work, and involves a systematic approach to moving the limbs and activating the lymphatic vessels with very light pressure and strokes. It is primarily recognized by those who work with or have experienced Lymphedema – a type of swelling that may occur after the removal of lymph nodes during cancer treatment, often presenting in the arms and legs.

It is also being sought after by clients who are interested in reducing swelling after undergoing other surgical procedures, particularly cosmetic procedures. Being able to reduce the amount of fluid that accumulates in an area after a procedure or injection may reduce the healing time and improve the appearance of the skin in the area. Some clients are also interested in the benefits perceived from lymphatic work on its own. For example, a thirty-minute Lymphatic Facial provides a non-invasive boost to the skin and can, over time, help reduce the appearance of issues affected by fluid retention such as fine lines, wrinkles, dark circles, etc. A one hour Lymphatic Drainage session received on a regular basis may help to reduce the appearance of cellulite or other perceived skin flaws as the skin is not being pulled as taut by accumulated fluid beneath it.

Of course, not everyone is primarily concerned with the appearance of their skin, and many clients are more interested in the detoxifying benefits of lymphatic work. I use the word detoxify with caution – our livers do the work of detoxifying in our bodies quite well. Lymphatic drainage simply encourages the body to work at its best. If, due to stress and a sedentary lifestyle, the body hasn’t been eliminating fluid properly, lymphatic drainage can help to move that fluid, filter it, and then move it towards the liver and kidneys as it is meant to proceed naturally.

In fact, some clients do experience a reaction to Lymphatic Drainage, usually a day or two afterwards of feeling sluggish or achey, possibly with some stuffiness or nasal drip. They tell me they feel as if their body is working a little harder to clear up whatever we moved through their system, and that they feel like they just need to rest a little. This doesn’t always happen but it isn’t entirely unexpected; we don’t know what was contained in that fluid or how long it sat there, and the lymphatic system will expose it to white blood cells, filter it, and move it along to the rest of the organs that handle detoxification and elimination. If it does happen, these symptoms clear up on their own soon after, and clients then report feeling lighter, less fatigued, and overall better.

Because the goal is to help the lymphatic system work optimally, this type of bodywork is best performed in an environment that is as relaxing as possible. Dim lights, soft music, scented candles or aromatherapy; whatever you feel is going to help you best achieve total relaxation. As such, I often provide this type of work to clients in the comfort of their own homes, and they’re usually quite happy to move from my massage table to their own sleeping area to make the most of the experience once I’m gone … by falling into a deep and restful sleep!

On the whole, Lymphatic Drainage and Lymphatic Facial work are a gentle and relaxing way to help you look and feel your best, while also providing relief from more pronounced swelling – due to medical conditions or procedures – as needed.