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LYMPH: A hidden key to pain and inflammation

Lymph issues can lead to muscle tightness, pain, headaches, allergies, constipation and more
The lymphatic system can be likened to the pipes found underneath the aquarium keeping it clean (left). Backed up pipes (or lymph) can result in stagnation and toxic accumulation in the tissues (right).

Did you know LYMPH isn’t just about swelling?! It actually serves as our internal sewage system of the body (removes bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, cellular waste, protein, toxins). Much like the picture of the aquarium, our lymphatic system represents the pipes underneath that keep the water clean. Our lymph vessels and nodes can get clogged and backed up, and that’s what our bodies or cells can look like from the inside! When the bad stuff can’t get out of the body, it re-circulates causing stagnation which results in pain and inflammation.

Blood vessels, nerves and lymph run alongside each other throughout the body, therefore stagnant lymph vessels nearby can irritate nerves and cause loss of blood flow leading to pain in the adjacent nerve or surrounding tissues.

ORDER matters: Toxins OUT first, then Nutrients IN! When the bad stuff can't get out, the good stuff can't get in! That means if your lymphatic system is struggling, all the nutritious food, supplements or medications you are taking may be unable to get inside the cell to be utilized. This can be a reason why some people don't tolerate supplements/medications well or don't see the change they'd like to see despite a healthy diet and lifestyle.

"When a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment in which the flower grows, not the flower." -Alexander Den Heijer

Did you know that FAT surrounds TOXINS? This is another key reason overweight people have trouble losing real weight. Their detox system is quickly overloaded (due to backed up lymph) when toxins are released from fat. These symptoms present similar to flu and thyroid struggles, resulting in depression and lack of energy.

This is a protection mechanism: the brain will not allow the body to burn fat because your body/brain knows you will unleash toxins on a system that cannot eliminate them.

This is often why some people get an initial DETOX reaction after doing lymphatic work as the stuck toxins are being stirred up and mobilized to exit the body.

How can I know if I have a LYPMH issue?

Looks can be deceiving at times. On the surface we may not have the more obvious swelling or skin issues. However, our internal environment may look like the picture above on the right. We just don't associate some of our symptoms with a lymph problem.

Signs of a LYMPH problem:

  • morning body stiffness/tightness/soreness/itchiness

  • headache or brain fog

  • bloating or swelling

  • inability to lose weight

  • skin issues (blotching, acne, varicose veins)

  • delayed onset allergies

  • poor sleep

  • chronic pain and fatigue

  • painful or tender lymph nodes

  • bad breath

  • slow recovery/training plateau

  • easy bruising

  • red/grey eyes

We have over 700 lymph nodes in our body, 1/3 of those are in our NECK! And your brain drains 3 POUNDS of toxins from the body each year via the lymph system! This is why clogged lymph nodes can lead to headaches, neck and shoulder pain. The primary lymph drainage region is into the veins at the collarbones, which then exits the body through the skin (sweat), kidneys or the colon. If this region is blocked, the lymph from the brain and neck are unable to drain and be removed from the body so they re-circulate contributing to headaches, neck and shoulder pain/stiffness. Rub underneath your collarbones, if tender, you likely have some stagnant lymph!

“When blood and lymphatics flow freely, the tissues can perform their physiologic functions without impedance. With the occurrence of trauma (physical or emotional), the tissues contract, twist, and compress. The fluid flow becomes obstructed” -Dr. Andrew Taylor Still

What leads to LYMPH congestion or stagnation?

  • Physical obstruction: plagues, toxins, viruses, bacteria, stenosis, thrombosis, clots

  • Structural obstruction: fascia, tissues, nerves most often due to stress and lack of movement, scars

  • Vagus nerve: sympathetic dominance, nervous system dysregulation

A nerve that can’t get oxygen and glucose, or a nerve that is “backed up” with deoxygenated blood that can’t escape will complain. Lymphatic obstruction can cause this lack of oxygen to tissues and nerves. Hypoxia or lack of oxygen in the tissues is the fundamental cause of all degenerative disease.

This explains the ties to the lymphatics in neurological disorders and the neuro-lympho-vascular connection to Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

"THE BIG 6": Most common choke points where LYMPH gets stuck:

  • Collarbones

  • Behind jawline/below ear

  • Pectoral/Axillary

  • Abdomen

  • Inguinal/Groin

  • Posterior knee

Rub these areas 10x, then tap or slap 10x (in this order)

How does LYMPH move?

  • Diaphragmatic breathing creates the vacuum effect that increases the rate of toxic elimination through lymph as much as 15x the normal rate!

  • Regular exercise or sweating

  • Dry brushing

  • Manual stimulation and massage (especially "the BIG 6")

The way we impact lymph here at Be Still Physical Therapy is through manual stimulation, massage and movement. The above are some ways that you can start moving your lymph at home!


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