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.
Why get a massage? Well, because it feels good, for one thing. But many people also hop on the table with the hope that massage therapy can help promote muscle recovery after a tough workout or provide other benefits.
No one has looked closely at what massage does to muscle at a cellular or molecular level, however. Researchers set out to do just that, and their findings are published in Science Translational Medicine.
The researchers exercised 11 young men to exhaustion over about 70 minutes, then massaged a single leg (determined randomly for each man) for ten minutes. The subjects received a muscle biopsy in both quad muscles to gather samples for massaged and non-massaged legs. The biopsy was repeated after a 2.5-hour rest period.
Researchers analyzed the samples from the different legs to see what was going on after the massage. They found two major changes: reduced signs of inflammation, and an increase in production of mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories.
Curbed production of inflammatory molecules “may reduce pain by the same mechanism as conventional anti-inflammatory drugs” like aspirin and ibuprofen, the authors write.
The authors say that an increase in the number of mitochondria can promote better recovery after a tough exercise session. That finding also means that massage after exercise could help enhance endurance, says Mark Tarnopolsky, an author of the study and a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University Medical Center in Hamilton, Ont. Nailing down that link would require further research, says Tarnopolsky.
In addition to boosting circulation, easing stress and relieving aches and pains, all important physiologically for people who don’t move around much, massage bestows a basic need the elderly often go without: touch.
A study published in 1998 in the Journal of Applied Gerontology found that elderly people who massaged infants experienced less stress, improved mood and fewer trips to the doctor.
Researchers believe massage, and touch generally, can strengthen the immune system by stimulating pressure receptors under the skin, which in turn reduces the stress hormone cortisol, the chief culprit in killing disease-fighting cells, said Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
But elderly people, who could use the immune-boosting benefits of touch the most, are getting it the least.
More than chatting, playing games or holding hands, giving focused, attentive touch establishes a nurturing bond that expresses caring, Nelson said. She has seen it ease symptoms of touch deprivation, such as irritability and a lack of interest in life. In people with dementia, she said, it helps ground them in reality.
[…]The most obvious and most often claimed benefit [to massage] is increased circulation. This is definitely true to the area being massaged, and the evidence is the skin having an increased reddish color, pretty simple.
Ok, so your neck hurts and rubbing increases the circulation, but so what, why does more blood in that area make it feel better?
The increase of blood flow delivers more nutrients to nerve and muscle cells and also aids in flushing away cellular toxins. As cellular health improves, the tissues function more efficiently. Body tissue that is starved of nutrients and oxygen heal slowly.
Just as if a garden hose has a kink in it, and then you undo that kink, the water has a burst of flow from the built up pressure, then the water flows easily through the hose again.
Ok, so back to that achy neck that you’ve been rubbing. Remember when you were little and you bumped your knee and just that little kiss from mom seemed to make it feel better? It really does! The sensation of pressure helps to block pain sensations from going to your brain. The idea of blocking pain with another sensation is commonly known as Gate Control Theory, even that shaking of your finger when you bang it with a hammer does the trick.
What else is going on when you get a massage?
When the muscles are tight or there has been an injury, the body develops adhesions, or bands of rigid tissue. These adhesions block circulation and limit movement. The tissue will “forget” that it can be looser and longer and muscles will stay contracted. Massage will physically break down these adhesions, softening them, stretching them or re-organizing them to go with the direction of the muscle fiber instead of against, to restore normal range of movement. Rubbing those muscles relaxes the tissue, reducing painful contractions and “reminding” the tissue that it can be looser.
And now our first big word of the day: Piezoelectricity. It actually means electricity resulting from pressure and parts of the body generate this electricity, including the repair material used after trauma or inflammation. The pressure from getting a massage stimulates, down to the molecule, that material to heal faster than it normally would.
It must be mentioned that massage doesn’t just feel pleasant and relax muscles, but also has a much more complex effect on your mental and emotional state. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce blood pressure, which is an indicator of stress.
When it feels good to be in your skin, you gain emotional and psychological benefits that are virtually impossible to measure. Massage can change your sense of self and be a catalyst for personal growth.
With all these benefits, you can see why regular massages (even once a month) are a good investment.[…]
It’s one of the oldest healing arts, and today the benefits of massage are varied and far-reaching. As an accepted part of many physical rehabilitation programs, massage therapy has also proven beneficial for many chronic conditions including low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation and depression. Many people will also attest that massage helps relieve the stress and tension of everyday living.[…]
Making time for massages is something persons from all walks of life should do because the benefits are numerous, says Orthopedic Sports Therapist Edwardo Thompson[…].
“You don’t have to lift something heavy to put your muscles under stress — it could be something as simple as a thought, so therefore that stress level that you’re now putting on your body needs to find its way out. I like to look at the body as a big chain of energy. Anytime you have a short circuit, it has to go somewhere. Electricians will tell you that the reason you have circuit boxes is because if you have a shortage somewhere it’s going to trip the breaker, so the same thing with stress. When your body becomes stressed then you start having boils and lumps and all these other things, and this is when diseases start to form. It has to go somewhere, and nine times out of 10, what massage does is help the body to relax. It helps the body to get rid of that load. Muscles are designed to move, so all the movement that you do over a period of time weighs you down and puts tension on you. It actually strains the muscle, so a good therapist will actually lengthen the muscle tissues and that’s where the results will come.”
Going for days, weeks and months on end without having your muscles relaxed to release the chemical reaction isn’t good says Thompson[…].
“The true benefit for me when I work on my clients is to really help them prevent stress … even disorders. Sometimes we [massage therapists] are the first ones to recognize a problem with a client. Sometimes the client doesn’t even know they have a problem. Because we’re working on them on a consistent basis, we’re able to identify things and sometimes we make suggestions,” he said.[…]
While the country is in an economic bind and most people are watching how they spend their “pennies,” he suggests that you start living from a preventative perspective instead of waiting for something to happen. Thompson says getting massages gives you the opportunity to maintain a perfect health, to recover it, and ensure that your body is performing at an optimum level at all times.
“Spend that quality time for yourself. To really look at it from the perspective that you not only want to live longer, but you want to live healthier. When you get a massage, it’s not that you’re getting a relaxation massage or feel-good massage, you’re actually helping your body to function.”
“Rapaport’s curiosity [Mark Rapaport, MD] led to a study, published last fall, that looked at 53 healthy adults who received one of two types of touch treatments. Blood tests revealed that those who had a Swedish massage with moderate pressure experienced decreases in stress hormones and increases in white blood cells, indicating a boost in the immune system. Meanwhile volunteers who had a “light touch” treatment showed higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding. Based on the findings, Rapaport believes that massage might be effective in treating inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.” More