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Lymphatic Self-Care

What is it, and why does it matter?

By Sarahlynn M. Etta, LMT, CMLDT

Perhaps you have heard of lymph nodes, or felt them in your neck? But did you know that they are part of a larger, intricate network that helps cleanse and protect your entire body?

This little-discussed system is a vital part of your immune response. It fights infection and removes bacteria, viruses, environmental toxins and abnormal cells. A poorly functioning lymphatic system can lead to swelling, fatigue, infection and illness.

Signs of Stagnation

Poor lymphatic flow may result from injury, illness, surgery, exposure to environmental toxins, lack of exercise, stress, restrictive clothing (think ill-fitted bra bands) or poor diet and hydration.

Signs include:

  • Puffiness, swelling, bloating

  • Stiffness, limited range of motion

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Dry, itchy or red skin

  • Sluggishness, brain fog, fatigue

  • Weakened immunity

  • Frequent sinus infections or colds

Supporting Your Lymphatic System

A few simple self-care techniques can make a big difference in keeping lymph moving, as well as for your overall health.

Hydrate - Drink plenty of clean water throughout the day, aiming to drink half your body weight in ounces. If you consume diuretics like coffee, tea, alcohol, soda, etc., add an additional 1.5 ounces of water per ounce of beverage consumed. For example, if you have a 4-ounce glass of wine, add an additional 6 ounces of water to your daily intake. Yes, you read that right!

Breathe deeply - Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the deepest parts of your lymphatic system. Take slow, full breaths in through the nose and allow your belly to expand. Slowly exhale through the nose or mouth, and feel your belly gently draw in. Challenge yourself to follow the “365 method”—three times per day, pause to breathe at a rate of six cycles per minute (five-second inhale, five-second exhale) for at least five minutes. Do this all 365 days of the year!

Move your body - Your circulatory system has a pump—your heart. Your lymphatic system does not! It depends on exercise, both the movement of muscles and getting the heart rate elevated, to function. Strive to get in 150 minutes of movement each week (that's just five 30-minutes sessions).

Brisk walking gets the muscles moving and elevates the heart rate. Incorporate movements such as neck rolls, shoulder shrugs, legs lifts and arm raises, which stimulate parts of the body where lymph nodes are concentrated. Consider adding swimming, which creates gentle pressure on the skin, increasing lymphatic flow. A regular movement practice also supports good posture, which in turn facilitates deep breathing!

Try lymphatic drainage - If you have specific considerations, such as inflammation, autoimmune disease, swelling, lymph-node removal or irradiation, or have recently had surgery, consider manual lymphatic drainage (MLD).

Sometimes called “lymphatic massage,” MLD is not actually massage, and a massage therapist needs specialized training to practice this modality. While massage targets the soft tissues (muscles and connective tissue), MLD specifically targets the lymphatic system and lymphatic fluid.

In addition to supporting overall lymphatic function, MLD calms the nervous system, creates an anti-inflammatory response, and releases oxytocin and other “feel-good” hormones. It is a gentle, slow and rhythmic treatment, and many people find it very relaxing and nourishing.

Sarahlynn, owner of Maitri Movement & Massage, is a licensed massage therapist and certified manual lymphatic drainage therapist, specializing in inflammation, pre- and post-surgery, scar-tissue release, and cancer care and recovery. Read the full article or schedule a lymphatic drainage treatment at:

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