Lately, my sister and I have been seeing a lot of lymphatic congestion in the images we take and often the client will have questions pertaining to this topic.
Lymphatic congestion, is a condition in which the lymphatic system fails to drain properly, allowing toxins and cellular waste products (garbage) to accumulate in the body. It is the job of the lymph system to remove the garbage. This is a particular problem for cancer patients who’ve had lymph nodes removed or otherwise damaged in treatment, but you don’t have to have a chronic disease to experience stagnant lymph.
Initial breast scan results stated client was at some risk for breast disease. This baseline thermal scan motivated client to make significant changes in her diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management habits.
3 Month Follow Up study showed significant improvement after improving her diet by eliminating sugar, wheat, dairy and drinking more water. This led to better sleep and more desire to exercise. Client was listed now at low risk for breast disease.
Annual thermogram shows client is maintaining her healthier lifestyle and her risk was lowered to within normal limits and at low risk for breast disease.
Lymphatic congestion can lead to swollen tonsils; recurrent sore throats; chronically enlarged lymph nodes, swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, and/or breasts; slow healing; and itchy rashes.
Note the intense hyperthermia in the right axilla.
How the Lymphatic System Works
The lymphatic system plays an important role in both removing wastes and toxins from the body and in maintaining its immunity against pathogens. It does this by circulating lymph—a transparent fluid containing white blood cells and proteins—around the body and draining interstitial fluid from between the cells. That extracellular space is where the cells dump their wastes and where other toxins and debris can accumulate. If this gunk builds up, we begin to feel stiff, swollen, heavy, and lifeless.
Lymph channels draw this fluid up from the limbs and down from the head toward the chest, where it dumps into the circulatory system via the veins under the collarbones. Lymph channels run throughout the entire body—both close to the surface and also deep within the torso around every organ. The lymph from the legs and pelvis, for example, drains into the thoracic duct, which originates in the abdomen and travels up the chest to the left collarbone.
As the lymph wends its way up the body, it passes through filtering stations in the channels called lymph nodes. These contain collections of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that can destroy potentially harmful impurities or bacteria and viruses in the lymph.
When the lymphocytes are active, we experience what we call “swollen glands”—painful, enlarged nodes most commonly noticed in the throat, on the sides of the neck, under the arm, or in the groin. This is a good sign that your immune system is working to defend you. However, if after trying the suggestions below, your lymph nodes remain swollen for more than a few weeks, be sure to tell your doctor. Chronically swollen lymph nodes, especially ones that are hard, fixed to the tissues or skin nearby, or growing rapidly need prompt attention.
Lymph congestion reduces the ability of toxins and metabolic wastes to be removed from the breast tissue. This can lead to breast pains and/or breast lumps that raise a concern for further testing.
Most of the lymph channels lie just under the skin, so a very light massage is all it takes to stimulate the flow of lymph. Just the weight of your hand will suffice as you stroke toward the chest, starting at the feet and working up each limb and the body. Uncomfortable or unsure about doing this yourself? A massage therapist trained in lymphatic massage will know what to do for congested lymph.
If you are interested in performing lymphatic massage on yourself, here is a great YouTube video by Heather Wibbels, LMT for head congestion.
And here’s one for draining lymph from the axilla.
Also called “dry brushing,” this do-it-yourself technique promotes lymph flow by gently brushing the skin in the same direction as the lymph is traveling—from the feet and hands up toward the collarbones. This is usually done upon rising (before a shower) using a natural, soft-bristled brush on dry skin.
Here’s a good YouTube video of how to dry brush.
Another good option is to use a rebounder to move lymph.
Go with the Flow
While yoga (and bodywork) can dramatically improve the flow of lymph, it will be even more effective if you modify your diet to keep all of your body’s systems flowing smoothly. For example, lymph becomes thicker and less mobile when we are dehydrated, but flows well when we drink plenty of fluids. To stay well hydrated, you should drink 64 or more ounces of water a day.
Similarly, a sluggish digestive tract can create a situation where toxins in the colon get reabsorbed into nearby lymph channels, increasing the general toxic load in the body. To stay regular, drink more water, eat more fiber, exercise moderately, and practice relaxation daily. And consider taking a soluble fiber like psyllium to help get things moving again.
And because systemic inflammation can create congestion and swelling that can inhibit the flow of lymph and other bodily fluids, do your best to avoid inflammation-causing foods like sugar, refined flour, soda, and processed foods. In their stead, eat foods that counter inflammation, such as most vegetables, lemons and limes, avocados, beans, sprouts, figs, some whole grains (spelt, buckwheat, millet), and some oils (sesame, olive, coconut, fish, and flax).