The lymphatic system plays a significant role in generating vibrant health. Since your lymph fluid does not constantly circulate as blood does, it requires mindful practices to prevent it from becoming stagnant. This article will highlight some of the best ways to move your lymph and relaxation’s vital role in keeping healthy lymph.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
The Role of the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system acts like the sewerage system by ridding the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials. It comprises a network of tissues, vessels, and organs that work together to move a clear fluid called lymph back into your bloodstream 1.
This system has many roles, like protecting your body from invaders, maintaining body fluid levels, absorbing digestive tract fats, and removing cellular waste. It comprises various body parts, including the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic system plays a role in maintaining the fluid levels in your body tissues by removing all the fluids that leak out of your blood vessels 2.
The lymphatic system runs throughout the whole body. There are concentrated amounts of lymph nodes in your joints, neck, and abdomen area. You have more lymph fluid in the body than blood! 1-2 Unlike the blood, the lymph fluid does not flow constantly. As a result, many people don’t have enough lymph movement, and stagnant lymph has many health consequences.
Symptoms of a Stagnant Lymphatic System
Unlike your blood, the lymph fluid does not automatically flow through your body. The lymph is considered stagnant when you don’t do activities that help it pump (we’ll get to those later) or are chronically stressed. The lymphatic system plays such a significant role in the body that you will feel it when it isn’t functioning correctly!
Common symptoms of stagnant lymph include: 3-4
- Lowered immune system (more illness)
- Poor quality sleep
- Bowel issues
- Digestive issues
- Varicose veins
- Swelling of hands, legs, and feet
- Itchy or dry skin
- Cold hands and feet
Benefits of Healthy Lymph
Apart from not promoting all the common symptoms of having poor lymphatic movement, there are many benefits to having healthy lymph flow.
Your lymphatic system serves the vital role of cleansing the fluid surrounding every single cell in your body by removing impurities and waste products. This process is key to getting toxins out of your body because any detox is only as good as your drainage. Getting toxicity out of the cell is vital, but it will just re-circulate in the body unless your drainage system is working.1-2.
Toxins aren’t the only things that lymph moves out of the body; other waste products include the materials that build up in the body after exercise, like lactic acid. This is also important in recovering from an injury when the body removes damaged cells and builds up bi-products from cellular inflammation 1, 5.
The lymphatic system plays an integral role in your immune system. One of its primary roles is coordinating the trafficking of antigens and immune cells. Having healthy lymph supports your body to be more resilient toward viral, bacterial, and fungal infections 6.
Lymph and the Parasympathetic State
Getting in a parasympathetic state is also known as rest and digest mode. In this state, your heart and breathing rate slows down, your blood pressure drops, and your digestion increases. Your body enters a state of relaxation, and this relaxation promotes recovery 7.
The other side of the spectrum is called the sympathetic state, also known as fight or flight. This is the mode your body goes in when under stress, and the hormonal response increases cortisol and other stress hormones to help you escape from a likely dangerous situation. Historically, this mode was only activated when facing imminent danger, but in modern times, we experience low levels of chronic stress that interfere with the bodily processes that require a parasympathetic state 8.
The lymphatic system and parasympathetic state have a bi-directional relationship. Relaxation prompts lymphatic movement and drainage, and this lymphatic movement also relaxes the body. Managing your stress levels is one of the most essential factors in stimulating lymph flow 9.
Not only does lymph begin to flow in a parasympathetic state, but stress also creates a biochemical change in hormones, leading to inflammation and cellular waste that further clogs up the lymphatic system 10. Animal studies highlight that chronic stress can even remodel lymphatic vasculature and spread cancer in the body 11.
Some of the ways you can promote a parasympathetic state include:
- Spending time in nature (especially barefoot)
- Get a massage
- Take a warm bath
- Practice yoga, tai chi, or qi gong
How to Move Your Lymph
Prioritizing relaxation is one of the most significant ways to naturally encourage lymph flow. There are also many habits you can implement to promote more lymph movement, including:
Stay hydrated: The lymphatic system is made up of 96% water. Dehydration causes the lymphatic system to slow down and prevents proper waste removal from the body. Staying hydrated is a non-negotiable for healthy lymph flow!
Infrared: Infrared heat penetrates deep into the body’s tissues and promotes detoxification and elimination processes by moving the stagnant fluid and toxins through the skin, improving the drainage of the lymphatic system12.
Walking: brisk walking helps move your lymph, especially if you get your arms swinging. With so many lymph nodes by the joints, like behind your knees and elbows, walking briskly does a great job at pumping the lymph13.
Rebounding: Rebounding is the act of bouncing on a trampoline, and this bouncing action does wonders for moving the lymphatic fluid. Jumping on a mini-trampoline for 10 minutes first thing in the morning is a fantastic lymphatic health tool14.
Manual lymphatic drainage: Many websites teach you how to drain your lymphatic system manually. The key to manual lymphatic drainage is being very gentle with your touch. The lymph is just below the skin, so any amount of pressure that feels like a massage uses too much force to drain the lymph properly. These soft movements push the lymph towards the lymphatic glands15.
Dry brushing: Like manual lymphatic drainage, dry brushing is a great way to facilitate lymph flow. Using a hard-bristled ‘dry brush’ you simply brush your skin in long gentle strokes, working your way up towards the heart. Dry brushing also promotes circulation, exfoliates the skin, and reduces cellulite 15.
Avoid tight-fitting clothing (especially underwear): Although you can use compression mindfully to promote lymphatic flow, it should be avoided long-term, especially with very tight clothes. You should avoid tight clothes around areas with lots of lymph nodes like around the groin, underarms, and neck; you should avoid tight underwear or bras!
Flow Presso: the Flow Presso machine is a practitioner-grade compression machine that gently hugs the body in rhythmic motions to promote lymphatic drainage. It also has infrared heat with further increased lymphatic health and various setting to meet bio-individual needs.
The lymphatic system plays a vital role in generating health, including the process of detox, recovery, and immunity. Stagnant lymph is associated with poor sleep quality, bowel issues, stiffness, anxiety, and itchy or dry skin. One of the key pillars of healthy lymph flow is having enough time in the parasympathetic mode. Regular relaxation and hydration are non-negotiables for the lymphatic system to thrive. Other techniques that promote lymph movement include rebounding, dry brushing, manual lymphatic drainage techniques, and brisk walking.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for the accuracy of the information provided, but we encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
- Swartz, M. “The Physiology of the Lymphatic System.” Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, vol. 50, no. 1-2, 2001, pp. 3–20., https://doi.org/10.1016/s0169-409x(01)00150-8.
- Cueni, Leah N., and Michael Detmar. “The Lymphatic System in Health and Disease.” Lymphatic Research and Biology, vol. 6, no. 3-4, 2008, pp. 109–122., https://doi.org/10.1089/lrb.2008.1008.
- “Lymphedema.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 Sept. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/symptoms-causes/syc-20374682.
- Santambrogio, Laura. Immunology of the Lymphatic System. Springer New York, 2013.
- Vairo, Giampietro L et al. “Systematic review of efficacy for manual lymphatic drainage techniques in sports medicine and rehabilitation: an evidence-based practice approach.” The Journal of manual & manipulative therapy vol. 17,3 (2009): e80-9. doi:10.1179/jmt.2009.17.3.80E
- Randolph GJ, Ivanov S, Zinselmeyer BH, Scallan JP. The Lymphatic System: Integral Roles in Immunity. Annu Rev Immunol. 2017;35:31-52. doi:10.1146/annurev-immunol-041015-055354
- McCorry, Laurie Kelly. “Physiology of the autonomic nervous system.” American journal of pharmaceutical education vol. 71,4 (2007): 78. doi:10.5688/aj710478
- “Sympathetic Nervous System.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/sympathetic_nervous_system.htm.
- Honguten, Agsipa, et al. “Effects of Lymphatic Drainage Therapy on Autonomic Nervous System Responses in Healthy Subjects: A Single Blind Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, vol. 27, 2021, pp. 169–175., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2021.03.019.
- Nance, Dwight M, and Virginia M Sanders. “Autonomic innervation and regulation of the immune system (1987-2007).” Brain, behavior, and immunity vol. 21,6 (2007): 736-45. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.03.008
- Le, C., Nowell, C., Kim-Fuchs, C. et al. Chronic stress in mice remodels lymph vasculature to promote tumour cell dissemination. Nat Commun 7, 10634 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms10634
- Li, Ke et al. “Efficacy and safety of far infrared radiation in lymphedema treatment: clinical evaluation and laboratory analysis.” Lasers in medical science vol. 32,3 (2017): 485-494. doi:10.1007/s10103-016-2135-0
- Moore, James E Jr, and Christopher D Bertram. “Lymphatic System Flows.” Annual review of fluid mechanics vol. 50 (2018): 459-482. doi:10.1146/annurev-fluid-122316-045259
- Cogoli, A. “Changes observed in lymphocyte behavior during gravitational unloading.” ASGSB bulletin: publication of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology vol. 4,2 (1991): 107-15.
- “Support the Lymphatic System.” American Holistic Health Association, https://ahha.org/selfhelp-articles/support-the-lymphatic-system/.