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. 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. 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. Rebounding is a great way to get lymph moving. If balance is an issue, 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. Bounce on an exercise ball. Bouncing on an exercise or yoga ball is similar to rebounding except it’s done seated. Therefore, it’s also a great alternative to rebounding. Start with small amounts of time and gentle movements. Even small increments of activity can move lymph.
4. 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 also brush our skin, which is also, coincidentally, the biggest organ in the body. This simple but invigorating practice takes only 5 minutes and offers many benefits including stimulation and support of the lymphatic system, 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.
If you have lymphedema or lipedema, please check with your doctor or lymphatic therapist before beginning a dry brushing regimen. Because dry brushing can cause micro-tears in the skin, dry brushing can put you at increased risk of infection. If not done correctly, dry brushing can also irritate the skin and break down its protective barriers.
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. Try to breathe through your nose as you breathe. 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.
5. Proper nutrition. 80% of the lymphatic system resides in the abdominal area, so it just 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.
6. Drink plenty of water. The amount of water necessary for proper hydration is debatable, so a good way to monitor your own hydration level is by looking at the color of your urine. Healthline.com has a nice chart to better understand what the color of your urine means.
7. Wear loose-fitting clothing. In an article for the Chopra Center, Jennifer Weinberg writes, “Wearing tight fitting or restraining garments, like a bra with an underwire, or tight briefs or jeans, can restrict the drainage of lymph fluids from surrounding tissues. Look for looser-fitting clothing. It is especially important to choose unrestricting clothing when sleeping since the body carries out extensive detoxification activities during sleep.”
8. Do some yoga. Yoga poses include stretching, bending, and twisting — all great ways to move lymph. Simple poses such as cat-cow (which I do in a seated position due to knee issues), and legs-up-the-wall pose are great ways to move lymph. Child’s pose, downward-facing dog, and bridge pose are also great for lymph movement. I start each day with Standing Sun Breath — it’s a simple and natural way to energize my body and get me moving. To do Standing Sun Breath, simply stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides. As you deeply inhale, sweep the arms up overhead; as you exhale, lower the arms. Inhale the arms up, reaching through the fingertips. Exhale the arms gently down. I do 7-10 of these –it’s a great way to start my day and get the lymph moving!
9. Get enough sleep. The glymphatic system is a relatively newly-discovered system that helps to remove debris and waste from the brain. Think of it as a sort of plumbing system for the brain that removes waste, much in the same way the lymphatic system removes waste from the body. Much of the activity in the glymphatic system occurs at night, when you are sleeping. This is also the time that the flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) increases, another way that waste is removed from the brain. This may be the reason people wake up feeling groggy after a poor night’s sleep versus refreshed after a good night’s sleep.
10. Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) massage. MLD is specifically designed to work with the lymphatic system and get the lymph moving! Therapeutic massage, in general, can also be beneficial because tight muscles and fascia can actually block the flow of lymph. Take the time necessary to find the right therapist for you. And you may want to check out my blog post about why certification is important when looking for a lymphatic therapist.
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 10 steps above to improving lymph flow are gentle and effective. Try them for a few months and see how they work for you!!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.