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Getting ahead of the game with Lymphatic Drainage

Athletes and coaches know that even the slightest edge in performance can be the difference between gold and silver, or a win. Strategies to enhance recovery are rigorously sought after.

However, what about non-athletes? What about individuals who are interested in optimising their wellbeing, enhancing recovery from life stress and improving health?

The use of compression and massage techniques to reduce swelling, cell damage, stagnant blood and fluid in the legs, ischemia, impaired movement, local tenderness and to enhance lymphatic drainage back to the heart has been used for centuries.


Most people are not aware that we have two plumbing systems in the body. The first one we are obviously familiar with, the circulatory system. The second system however, the lymphatic system receives far less attention yet is almost equally important.

The lymphatic system is a one-way path from the cells back to the heart. The fluid passes through chains of bean shaped lymph nodes in your groin, tonsils, arm pit etc where the lymph fluid is filtered and purified before being returned to the heart. Each day about 3-4 litres of fluid diffuses out of the tiny blood vessels surrounding our tissues into what’s called the interstitial space, the space surrounding every cell in our body. This almost 4 litres of fluid then enter the lymphatic system.

The primary functions of the lymphatic system are to:

Defend the body against infection and disease by producing, maintaining, and distributing immune cellsFacilitate the movement of excess interstitial fluid (fluid in and around the cells of our body) from the tissues back into the blood, thereby assisting in the maintenance of normal blood volume and preventing the development of swellingTransport substances such as nutrients, hormones, fats, proteins, and waste products from their tissues of origin to the venous side of the circulatory system

Therefore, stimulating the lymphatic system has numerous health benefits, it:

Primes the immune system by promoting the lymphatic flow in the lymph nodesEnhancement of body fluids movement thereby reducing swellingIncreasing the elimination of wastes from the tissuesEnhanced blood flow throughout the body A decrease in whole body sympathetic response Increase in parasympathetic response with a resultant calming effectReduction in muscle spasm and pain


The one-way nature of the lymphatic system results in the lymphatic vessels moving fluid to catchments (lymph nodes) and then upward to the large veins in the neck and chest for elimination of inflammatory debris through the organs. During removal of cellular debris from inflammation and lymph movement in general, the lymphatic vessels actively participate using smooth muscle contractions to pump the lymph against gravity. However, the swelling and collective debris of excessive exercise-induced inflammation, postural abnormalities placing drag on the vessels and organs, and myofascial tension or thickening may obstruct the lymphatic vessels due to damage to lymphatic walls and fragile lymphatic valves. The “clogging” of the lymph vessels can reduce the flow of lymphatic fluid, decreasing the removal of toxins and waste products and prolonging inflammation.

The distal lymphatic vessels respond to the external pressures applied in compression and manual treatments, unclogging them and restoring this purification process.

The importance of good quality lymphatic drainage cannot be overstated. By stimulating the lymphatic system, the ability to clear cellular wastes, foreign bodies, dead cells, toxins,

and excess fluid from the interstitial tissues is enhanced. The therapy can serve as a method to cleanse the general body. Lymphatic drainage is indicated for:

Stress Detoxification Pain and inflammation Myofascial pain and tension Chronic fatigue Swelling Headaches


Looking at the research on the benefits of lymphatic drainage techniques, 2014 study showed that 15 minutes of dynamic compression enhanced flexibility by as much as 20-30%. Mechanistically, the increase in flexibility is most likely due to changes in the nervous system rather than actual increased tissue length. Muscles, tendons and fascial tissue are abundant in stretch receptors that communicate with the nervous system about the local environment, including limiting the amount of flexibility within the tissues. With rhythmic pressure, there is most likely a desensitisation in the reactivity of these stretch receptors, in other words the nervous system is quietened down and thus permits the soft tissues to lengthen further. This is the same mechanism seen with stretching, massage and myofascial techniques. We are communicating with the nervous system, which increases parasympathetic activity, relaxes muscles spasm and increases your brains tolerance to stretch

Vigorous exercise can result in micro-damage to muscle fibres and connective tissues, resulting in inflammatory process with associated swelling. The body adapts to this, increasing the strength and resilience of the tissue in a positive process. However, this inflammation and micro- trauma is not “necessary” to create a positive adaption and want to resolve this as quickly as possible as the inflammation can lead to an increase in soft tissue adhesions and fibrosis, increased metabolic waste and a reduced clearance of lymphatic fluid. The enhancement in lymphatic drainage of proteins, immune cells, cellular debris, and fluid using massage and lymphatic techniques may accelerate recovery and overall wellbeing. A key goal of lymphatic drainage is thus to reduce lymphatic obstruction and thereby enhance the removal of the protein- and debris-rich fluid that accumulates in the interstitial spaces after exercise-induced inflammation

Lymphatic drainage is a safe and effective way to enhance recovery. In terms of optimising health which we at Body Clinic Sydney are all about, the increased lymphatic flow is powerful on multiple levels from reducing local inflammatory to enhancing immunity.


Sands, WA, Murray, MB, Murray, SR, McNeal, JR, Mizuguchi, S, Sato, K, and Stone, MH. Peristaltic pulse dynamic compression of the lower extremity enhances flexibility. J Strength Cond Res 28(4): 1058–1064, 2014


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