As a certified lymphedema therapist, clients often ask for tips on how they can support their lymphatic health and, as a human, I get why self-care routines can be so hard to stick to. Lymphedema is hard. Between jobs, kids, relationships and errands, life can get in the way of when and how we show up for ourselves. If you've recently been diagnosed with lymphedema (or are at risk after cancer treatment), you're going to learn a lot about how to manage your condition from the internet. It can feel confusing and overwhelming. Show yourself some compassion, give yourself permission to show up imperfectly, and above all else, start small! Here is good.
Try these 3 fast, easy, and small (but mighty) things to support your lymphatic health today!
1) "The Big 6"
This one's my favorite easy lymph-lovin' activity. Are you familiar with this epic lymph mover that addresses the 6 bottleneck areas (where our lymph tends to get stuck) in the body? This sequence was created by the great Dr. Perry Nickelston and takes less than 2 minutes of your time. You can do this seated or standing, and you gotta do it in the order listed here. It's for a good reason, I promise.
Lymph Tip: Make sure to do both sides, use your whole hand, and spend about 10-15 seconds on each of these 6 spots. Medium pressure is great for all points but number 2, that's gentle because we're stimulating our vagus nerve!
Rub above and below your collarbones. This is where lymph goes back into your bloodstream.
Gently rub the sides of your neck. Vagus, baby!
Now your armpits. You've got 30-50 lymph nodes here.
Now your abdomen. I like to make circular motions in one direction and then other. You've got a ton of lymph nodes in your abdomen, 150...at least.
Rub your groin, like in the hip creases. 18-20 lymph nodes here.
Rub above, behind, and below the back of your knee. Yep, you've got a couple nodes here too!
Now you've got things moving. Bounce on the balls of your feet, shake out your hands, and you're done.
If you're curious about the significance of these points I want you to think about what you do most with your body each day. Are you seated for long periods of time with your shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees locked into one position? Me too. Twinning! Even if we are active, that 45 minute workout is only like...4% of our day. We have to address these bottleneck areas because our lymphatic system doesn't have a pump. The pump is us.
2) Legs Up The Wall
Elevate your legs however your comfortable making sure that they're elevated above your heart. Set a timer for 5 minutes and let gravity do the work! That's the definition of easy, right? This is great for when our legs feel tired and full. It makes it easier for blood and lymph to get back to the heart. In addition to lowering our blood pressure and shifting our body into the parasympathetic response (rest and digest), it's fast, easy, and very effective.
For maximum drainage, really focus on your breath here. This boosts results by dilating your lymphatic vessels and engages the diaphragm, an umbrella shaped muscle that helps us breathe. It's the closest thing to a "heart" that our lymphatic system has got!
"Things hurt when they can’t get oxygen. How does oxygen get anywhere? Blood. Without it, you don’t heal."
-- Dr. Perry Nickelston
3) Calf Raises
I know, they're basic but I'm telling you; they're powerful. Think of movement like you would nutrition, and every movement that your body can do is like a calorie or food. Calf raises are an exercise snack for the lymph in our lower legs. I'm a bit of a multitasker and ladle in snacks throughout the day to keep my lymph happy. I have them scheduled on my phone for days when I know I'll be seated at my desk for long periods of time. This is a direct effort to combat damage to the venous system.
When it comes to poor circulation, many of us are dealing with compromised blood and lymphatic flow in our lower legs due to our sedentary culture, and for those living with lower extremity LE, this is especially true because the lymphatic system can't pull fluid into the system as well or quickly as it's designed to. Because the early stages of chronic venous insufficiency are often asymptomatic, it can go undetected for years before we identify that there's a problem.
Calf raises for the win! The muscle activation pushes and pulls our lymph and encourages it to get back to the heart. If you wear compression, be sure to wear them to help your lymphatics keep up with this demand.
The Take Away
Try setting a goal to spend 3 minutes every hour of your day doing something (anything) for your lymphatic system, primarily through touch and muscle activation; touch yourself and move your body. That's ultimately how lymph gets around. This 3 to 60 ratio will get you 36-48 minutes of lymphatic support each day. Huzzah!
There are so many ways we can support our lymphatic health, I just had to share my top 3 with you! This is my very first blog post but I'll be sharing more on all things lymphatics because I love to teach and I love to learn.
Leah Levitan, MT, CLT