Lymph drainage is a vital process for eliminating waste, toxins and pathogens in our bodies, but poor diet, lifestyle and environmental factors can cause things to turn a little pear-shaped. Here are 9 signs your lymph drainage system isn’t working how it should – plus, what you can do about it.
The lymphatic system is an essential element of our immune and circulation systems, affecting our entire bodies – from our brain to our gut and then right down to our feet and toes. This is because lymphatic drainage not only eliminates toxins and excess fluid in the body, it also helps move white blood cells through the body, which is essential for fighting pathogens.
The lymphatic system can only move upward, meaning it has the difficult task of fighting gravity – this unfortunately means it can become congested easily, especially when our lifestyle choices are not meeting our bodies’ exercise and dietary needs. When this happens, we may start to experience a range of uncomfortable symptoms caused by inflammation and the stagnation of fluids, which can ultimately lead to the development of autoimmune conditions. Here's what you need to know.
The signs of poor lymph drainage
- Brain fog: Poor lymphatic drainage can not only cause physical symptoms, but mental ones too – from depression and mood swings to brain fog. The latter can be caused by a build-up of toxins in our cerebrospinal fluid, which can have debilitating effects on our mental and physical health, leaving us fatigued, confused and lacking in mental clarity.
- Skin issues: That lingering rash or skin itchiness could be caused by issues with your lymphatic system. This is because of the increased inflammation and reduced circulation that come with poor lymph drainage, thereby irritating the skin.
- Frequent colds and flu: When your lymphatic system isn’t working properly, your immune system takes a hit. This can mean an increase in colds, bacterial infections and a cough that just won’t go.
- Allergies and sensitivities: You might find you’re more sensitive to mould in your home, or you might be experiencing allergic rhinitis or sinusitis, and if you don't have a history of allergies, it's all the more reason to suspect lymphatic issues.
- Cold or stiff hands and feet: Without the proper circulation – which the lymphatic system is responsible for – you might find your hands and feet are colder than usual. You may also have stiff fingers, making it hard to grip things or even making simple tasks like writing or typing a challenge.
- Cellulite: If you’ve noticed an increase in cellulite on your body – you know those bumpy-textured areas of your skin – it could be an issue of improper lymphatic drainage. Here’s why: cellulite appears when our skin’s connective tissue and cells are damaged, as fat cells are then able to move into the upward layers of skin. This is when you start to see these lumps on the surface of your skin, and while some cellulite is normal – in fact, most of us have it! – issues with your lymphatic system can cause it to increase in size and reach, and this is because of the fluid trapped in the skin’s tissue.
- Fluid retention: Noticed the heels of your feet are constantly red? This is blood pooling in your feet from a lack of fluid drainage and poor circulation. Or maybe you’ve noticed swelling in your arms and legs? The cause of these symptoms is likely improper lymph drainage This is because fluid often leaks into our body’s tissues, and we rely on our lymphatic system to clear it out. When things start going haywire with an otherwise effective system, we end up with fluid retention.
- Stiffness when you wake up: If you’ve been finding it harder to get up in the mornings, it could be to do with your lymph drainage function. You might have stiff and creaky joints, soreness and general achiness – especially when you first wake up – if your lymphatic system isn’t draining excess fluids as it should. The results range from inflammation and poor circulation to a lack of joint lubrication that causes these uncomfortable symptoms.
- Bloating: The digestive system is yet another area of the body affected by lymph drainage – or the lack thereof – and it’s one of the first things you’ll notice playing up. In fact, 30% of our lymphatic system is dedicated to the gut, so it’s no surprise that improper drainage can lead to issues with this area. This is because of inflammation and water retention, which can cause constipation and bloating. It can also cause metabolic rate imbalances, which can lead to weight gain.
What causes poor lymph drainage?
- Unhealthy diet
- Environmental toxins
- Stress and anxiety
- Inadequate exercise and long periods of sitting
How to improve your lymph drainage
An Anti-inflammatory, low-sugar diet: Sugar is a notorious inflammation-harbinger, so if your diet is rich in added sugars – and let’s face it, with the average Aussie consuming around 15 teaspoons of added sugar a day, this is true for most of us – then it might be worth cutting down, or cutting out completely, your intake. Highly-processed foods are another offender when it comes to worsening inflammation – which can cause more stagnation of fluids, making it even harder for the lymphatic system to do its job – so limit your intake of highly-processed breads, cereals, muesli bars and fast food. Stick to the following anti-inflammatory foods:
- Whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice
- Whole fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt
- Foods high in omega 3s like fish, eggs and walnuts
Red fruits like raspberries, cherries, cranberries and pomegranate all aid in the lymphatic system’s functionality, along with providing anti-inflammatory properties which fight infection.
Exercise: If you work from a desk all day, you might not be getting the blood circulation you need. Make sure to get up every now and again, do a few stretches and walk around. It’s also important to get moderate and vigorous exercise regularly – take a look at the current recommendation for adults:
- Between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate physical activity such as a walk or swimming.
- Around 1.5 to 2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity, this could include jogging, running or cycling.
Even if your schedule is packed-out, it’s essential to make the time for a bit of exercise to get your blood flowing and promote proper lymphatic drainage. Here are a few ways to work exercise into a busy schedule:
- Walk to the supermarket instead of driving or getting transport
- Take up cycling and use this as your mode of transportation
- Go for a walk during your lunch break
- Walk the kids home after school instead of driving
- Do sit-ups while brushing your teeth
Manual lymph drainage massage: You can give yourself a lymphatic massage – no equipment needed! You can perform a range of massages on different areas of your body, and while it helps to get it done by a trained therapist, there are some techniques you can try yourself. To perform a leg lymph drainage massage, follow these steps:
- Using light pressure on your skin, begin massaging from the furthest area from where you’re feeling any pain or swelling in your leg. For instance, if you feel swelling in your calves or ankles, massage from the top of your leg.
- As you massage, keep moving your hand down your leg.
- Then, gently stretch the skin from the inner leg and move it upwards and outwards. Keep doing this stretching exercise up until you reach your knee. You can repeat this exercise around 10 times.
There are a few other courses of action to get your lymphatic system moving:
- Avoid tight clothing
- Use a warm compress on the affected areas
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