As a Certified Lymphatic Therapist (CLT), one question I’m frequently asked is how to increase lymphatic flow. Listed below are 5 easy do-it-yourself ways to stimulate flow. Just be sure to check with your doctor if you’re unsure if any of the techniques listed below are right for you!
1. Swimming and/or aquatic exercise. One of the primary movers of lymph fluid is contraction of skeletal muscle, or exercise, and hand’s down, aquatic exercise is the best way to keep your lymph flowing. Lipoedema UK’s Big Survey 2014 found that 63% of people who regularly exercised in water found it effective in reducing the size of lipoedemous areas and 89% found exercising in water effective in helping with pain relief. Hydrostatic pressure exerted on the body aids blood circulation, and improves blood return from the extremities. You don’t need to be a swimmer to reap the benefits! Aqua-walking or jogging and water aerobics classes are equally effective. If you’ve recently had surgery, be sure to check with your physician prior to getting in the pool.
2. Rebounding on a mini-trampoline, or use of a treadmill or elliptical machine. First, rebounding is a great way to get lymph moving. But if balance is an issue or you don’t have access to a trampoline, treadmills, elliptical machines and bicycling may also be beneficial. Work at a moderate level of intensity, keeping in mind current fitness levels and health challenges.
3. Dry Brushing. Dry brushing involves using a soft-bristled brush to brush the skin prior to showering or bathing. Proponents of dry brushing point out that we brush our hair and brush our teeth, why not brush our skin? After all, our skin is the largest organ in the body. This simple and invigorating practice takes only 5 minutes and offers many benefits including stimulation and and increasws lymphatic flow, exfoliation of the skin, and the clearing and cleaning of pores. Gemma Nelson, a CLT in Dubai, has a great blog post about drying brushing — the benefits, how to do it, some inspirational before-and-after photos, and a short, instructional video. Check out her page here. One word of caution about dry brushing, however. It may not be suitable for people with lymphedema. For another perspective on the pros and cons of dry brushing, click here.
There are hundreds of dry brushes on the market but I personally like this brush from Amazon.com which you can find here.
4. Breathing. Deep, slow, steady abdominal breathing has also been reported to support the flow of lymph. To do abdominal breathing, place your hands gently over your belly button. As you breathe in, see if you can push your hands outward (or upward, if you are in a lying position). As you breathe out, try to feel your navel drawing in towards your spine. Repeat this breath 5-10 times, breathing at a slow and steady pace. If possible, breathe through your nose. Stop if you feel light-headed or dizzy. This gentle, effective breath helps to rid the lungs of stale air and engages the superficial and deep abdominal muscles, as well as the diaphragm muscle, which in turn stimulate the flow of lymph in the deep abdominal nodes. Abdominal breathing also calms the nervous system, leaving your mind feeling clearer and less stressed. Note: do not engage in this type of breathing while driving or operating machinery. Also, practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong all focus on the breath, and are thought to support the flow of lymph as well. Sara Samuel has a great blog post at Gaia.com about yoga and lymphatic flow which you can read here.
5. Proper nutrition. 80% of the lymphatic system resides in the abdominal area, so it makes sense to go easy on the gut. Eat foods that are high in fiber and water content: asparagus, spinach, berries, watermelon, and so on. Limit salt intake. If you buy processed foods, look for ones with fewer than 4 ingredients. And drink plenty of water!! Don’t be like the client who came to me for lymphatic work because she was feeling sluggish and puffy. I couldn’t figure out what was making her feel this way until she confided that she hadn’t had a bowel movement in nearly a week! Needless to say, I referred her back to her doctor to address her constipation and poor elimination issues.
Remember to check with your doctor before making exercise and dietary changes, especially if you are on medication or have recently had surgery or are facing other health challenges. The 5 steps above to improving lymph flow are gentle and effective. Try them for a few months to see how they work for you!!