Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

Lymph isn’t pumped like blood — “we don’t have a lymphatic heart,” she said, though lymph vessels do pulse a little. They can also piggyback off the pulse of blood vessels, using that force to help with movement. But lymph flow is mostly generated when we breathe, stretch and move.

When lymphatic fluid does not move through vessels correctly, it can accumulate in the body’s tissues, resulting in swelling, or lymphedema, Dr. Liao said. This can lead to tightness or heaviness in your limbs, a restricted range of motion and changes in skin thickness or coloration. Lymphedema is mostly a problem in cancer patients and people coming out of surgery, since lymph vessels can be blocked by tumors or damaged by radiation therapy, and surgical incisions can sever their connections. Additionally, about one in 100,000 people have genes that lead them to develop chronic lymphedema in childhood or early adulthood. Swelling from any kind of lymph accumulation can make people more prone to recurring infections, especially when left untreated, Dr. Liao said, since immune cells cannot efficiently travel to their targets.

For most people in generally good health, sufficient lymph flow will carry on whether you take measures to care for your lymphatic system or not.

Nonetheless, generations of alternative-medicine practices — from traditional Chinese medicine to naturopathy to Ayurveda — have used lymphatic massage techniques for “restoring balance” to the body and bolstering immune function in healthy people. While they’re not strictly necessary for most people to maintain health, these methods are a way for you to become attuned to the natural fluctuations of your body, said Dr. Melissa Ventimiglia, an assistant professor of family medicine at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury, N.Y. They can also have immediate, albeit temporary, effects on the appearance of your skin.

References to lymph in traditional Chinese medicine go back 2,000 years, said Yumi Ridsdale, a Chinese medicine practitioner in Ontario, Canada. “They of course didn’t use the words ‘lymphatic’ system — they didn’t have such a word,” but traditional Chinese medicine emphasized the importance of lymph circulation, and contemporary practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine often incorporate gua sha, body scraping and dry brushing into their treatments.


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