What exactly is the body’s lymph or lymphatic system? If you have ever had a wound that had clear fluid coming out of it, then you have witnessed your lymph system in action. The lymphatic system is a subsystem of both the circulatory and immune system. It plays a vital role in maintaining health because all the other systems in the body depend on it to clear toxins, wastes, bacteria, fat globules and infection from the body. The word “lymphatic” comes from the Latin word “lymphaticus,” meaning “connected to water.” The fluid is clear or milky white in color, and can be found throughout your body. In fact, there is more lymph fluid in the body than blood! Because we are exposed to so many synthetic chemicals, processed foods and environmental toxins, the lymph system gets overloaded. When this happens, the cells that rely on the lymph system for elimination become less efficient and sluggish as they fill with their own waste. This can lead to many health problems.
Our lymph system is made of white blood cells called lymphocytes, and the interstitial fluid that bathes our cells, bringing our cells nutrients and removing their waste. All detoxification occurs first and foremost through the lymph. The system is comprised of lymph capillaries, lymph-collecting vessels, lymph nodes and the lymph ducts. If you have ever been to the doctor’s office with “swollen glands,” those are actually your lymph nodes. (Contrary to popular belief, endocrine glands do not actually swell.) The nodes fill with lymph fluid to fight off infection.
Since the lymphatic system does not have a central pump like the heart, it depends on other factors, like muscular contraction, movement, pressure changes, spontaneous contraction of lymph vessels and external factors, such as massage and gravity. Jumping on a trampoline, swimming, deep belly breathing and massage therapy are some of the best things you can do in your daily life to activate this system.
Massage promotes healthy functioning of your lymph system by directly stimulating and relaxing your muscles. It flushes metabolic wastes and helps distribute nutrients to the body. Normally, 1.5 to 3 liters of lymph fluid are drained each day. Massage increases this up to 10 to 30 liters per day. Massage therapy also creates a response within the body that affects the cardiovascular system, lymphatic system and immune system. Massage increases the count and function of white blood cells, thereby strengthening the immune system.
Stimulating the lymphatic system provides energy, better health, better rest, weight loss and decrease in inflammation. Massage therapy used to be considered a luxury treatment for people. However, most people are becoming aware of all of the lovely health benefits this treatment provides, including cleaning out your lymphatic system and flushing away toxins.
Most people think about massage and think back rubs, neck rubs, and relaxation. But did you know that there are many other conditions that massage therapy can be used for? Clinical massage therapy (site-specific treatment with a goal in mind) can be an effective treatment for many medical conditions. Here is just a small sample:
- IT band syndrome: This is an overuse injury of the soft tissue that runs from the hip to the knee and can cause knee pain/hip pain. This is common in runners and other endurance athletes, but can happen to anyone.
- Plantar fascitis: This painful condition of the feet often responds well to massage therapy and physical therapy. A little stretching and soft-tissue massage goes a long way (especially when you start treatment right away).
- Piriformis syndrome: The piriformis is a muscle in the buttock region and, when tight, causes pain in the buttocks and/or down the leg.
- Shoulder pain: Massage therapy can be helpful to those of you with shoulder pain. Postural problems and daily activities (like sitting at a computer) can strain and irritate these muscles and massage therapy can often help.
- Headaches: Massage therapy can help decrease the frequency and intensity of headaches. Research has shown massage to be effective treating tension AND migraine headaches.
- Fibromyalgia: There are few things that haven been shown effective at managing symptoms of fibromyalgia, and massage therapy is one of them. Massage is the safest treatment available for many chronic pain conditions.
- TMJ dysfunction: For those unfamiliar, TMJ dysfunction is pain and/or clicking and locking of the jaw. An experienced massage therapist can help manage the symptoms and pain of TMJ dysfunction.
There are many others conditions massage therapy can help, including carpal tunnel, arthritis, and bursitis. The take-home message here is that if there is something that has been nagging you, check with a professional massage therapist and see if they can help you. An experienced massage therapist will also tell you when they CANNOT help, and can refer you to another appropriate medical professional (perhaps a physical therapist or physician).
Considering that massage therapy is a safe treatment without side effects for almost everyone, it is a very good place to start.
If you’ve ever laid down on a massage table for a session, chances are you know that massages feel good. But, how exactly can it help improve your athletic performance? The magic in massage lies in its ability to move your tissue in a way that will help to restore muscle elasticity and promote recovery. The kneading, pulling, and pushing also encourages better blood flow and acts as a flushing tool to help push waste products back into circulation and out of the muscle thereby helping to alleviate muscle soreness.
There are many different types of massages from those focused more on relaxation and recovery to harder options more geared towards breaking down knots and adhesions in the muscle fibers. While both approaches have specific applications, the end goal of massage is still to improve movement through increasing flexibility and tissue quality. Dr. Mike Reinold, head physical therapist for the Boston Red Sox, adds, “As a society, we are sitting more and more each year, which is leading to more postural adaptations and areas of tightness that can be limiting your fitness gains. Massage is an excellent resource to help address these tight areas, allowing you to move better and get more from your workouts.”
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Many people today suffer with chronic pain and have tried many modalities to rid themselves of this suffering. I have noticed more and more clients coming in for massage who have tried “everything else” for pain relief. Many people think of massage as something luxurious or pampering. However, massage can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain from overuse, trauma, fibromyalgia, arthritis and terminal illness.
Massage can reduce pain in a number of different ways. One way includes addressing the pain cycle. This cycle begins with extended muscle contraction due to strain on the muscles. This, in turn, causes a lack of blood flow. The lack of blood flow causes pain and reduces the amount of oxygen available to the muscles. Receiving a massage treatment will stimulate blood flow, reduce the muscle contractions and improve range of motion so that muscles don’t start to contract (spasm) again. Pain reduction can also be achieved by reducing the amount of fibrosis and adhesion in muscle tissue and alleviating trigger points. Trigger points are painful spots located within “tight” muscles that cause a shortening of the affected muscle.
Another cause of pain in the body is fascial restrictions. Fascia is a connective tissue layer between the muscles and the skin that is located throughout the body. In its natural state, it is a thin fluid. However, when extra strain is placed on the body from incorrect posture, the fascia resembles more of a gel consistency, making it more restricted, inflexible and stiff. Having restricted fascia in the shoulder can cause pain in the shoulder, neck and back.
Swedish massage, the traditional massage, increases blood flow, flexibility and length of muscles. Benefits include flushing out toxins, creating more oxygen for the muscle and softening the superficial fascia. A Swedish treatment usually involves some gentle stretching to increase range of motion and create more length within the muscle. Having length in a muscle simply means it does not get as “tight” and pulls less on the places where the muscle attaches. Adhesions are loosened with a pressure based on the client’s pain tolerance and preference. Swedish massage is generally considered a relaxing type of massage, while still delivering a significant amount of treatment for your muscles.
Deep tissue massage involves a variety of different techniques, and each therapist performs it a little differently. Two of the basic techniques involved in this treatment include connective tissue work and trigger point release. Connective tissue work is performed to release the restrictions in both levels of the fascia, superficial and deep. A light amount of lubricant is used, since the fascia is located above the muscles. The pressure is not as much downward as it is side-to-side, smoothing out the fascia. TP release focuses on certain points within muscles that pull on the areas where the muscle attaches. An example is your rhomboid muscles, which are commonly tight, are located on your upper back, and attach from the spine to the shoulder. If you were to have a trigger point in that muscle, it would pull on your shoulder and back, causing much discomfort. In addition, TPs frequently sit on top of nerves, causing even more pain. To release them, pressure is applied for a few seconds at a time while the client breathes deeply.
The modality of massage performed for chronic pain depends on the client, the goal and the cause of the pain. The style of massage can be discussed with your therapist at the time of your visit. You can talk to your massage therapist freely if you have any questions, concerns or interests so that your treatment is tailored to you.
by Angelina Breen