In 2015 investigators Yuan SL, Matsutani LA, and Marques AP noted lymphatic massage as the most helpful type of massage for fibromyalgia. So what is lymphatic massage and why is it important to our health?
The lymph system
To understand why manual lymphatic massage is beneficial for those of us with fibromyalgia, we must first understand how it works.
The purpose of our lymph system is to maintain fluid balance in our body’s tissue. Lymph vessels carry lymph fluid around our body and through our lymph nodes where cellular trash is filtered and collected. Special blood cells, called macrophages, then digest the cellular debris before recycled lymph fluid is returned to circulation as plasma, the liquid part of blood.
Unlike our blood circulation, our lymph system is passive. This means circulation of lymph fluid depends solely on contraction of surrounding muscles during exercise, body movement, deep breathing, and properly functioning organs. When movement is disrupted, excessive lymph accumulates leading to swelling, called edema, and a buildup of toxins in our tissue.
As a nurse and a patient, I know the important role of the lymph system. I have idiopathic edema—a fancy way of saying “yes, you are swelling, but we don’t know why.” In 1994, Deodhar AA, Fisher RA, Blacker CV, and Woolf AD concluded that rheumatologists should be aware of fluid retention syndrome and fibromyalgia. I couldn’t find any recent data on this. But, I suspect this type of swelling in fibromyalgia could be due to immune system dysfunction as identified by the FM/a® blood test. Because of this long-standing issue, I had to get creative when recovering from skin cancer surgery on my leg. I knew I needed to optimize my already damaged immune system so I could heal.
For any number of reasons, our lymph system sometimes needs help to reduce swelling. That’s where lymphatic massage comes in.
What is lymphatic massage?
Lymphatic massage, also known as Vodder Lymphatic Massage, was pioneered by Dr. Vodder in the 1930s for treating chronic sinusitis and other immune disorders. The therapist manipulates the body externally through massage, which opens lymphatic ducts and helps reduce stagnation and generalized swelling. Lymphatic massage encourages the flow of lymph fluid through muscles and tissues and into the lymph system for circulation.