As you all know, chemotherapy involves a lot of heavy pharmacology. These medications are absolutely life-saving, but they can also take a toll on our body’s natural detoxification processes and can leave anyone feeling sluggish, tired, or generally unwell. This post is for anyone going through chemo, but also for anyone who lives on planet Earth right now. We are exposed to so many chemicals daily and we need to keep our bodies healthy!
Our body’s immune system includes the liver, spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, and all of the lymphatic nodes and vessels.1 Its primary function is to DETOX our body and protect it against infection and disease. The lymph is the circulating component and thus a very important player in ridding our body of waste products.
An important thing to know about lymph is that it needs some help to flow. Unlike blood vessels, lymphatic vessels do not have smooth muscle that helps to pump it throughout the body, so lymph relies on things like muscle contractions, gravity, etc. to promote a 1-way flow through our bodies.
Read here or watch the video at the end of this post to learn about my favorite ways to perform lymphatic drainage at home:
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, helps to gently stimulate the cisterna chyli. The cisterna chyli is a large lymphatic collecting vessel in the abdomen where lymph from all 4 limbs begins to collect. Stimulating lymphatic flow here can help promote circulation of toxins OUT of the body. Since it’s close to the heart, I like to clear this region first so nothing gets “backed up” if the flow is a little sluggish through here.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Manual lymphatic drainage is a gentle, stroking type of massage that helps promote lymphatic flow. There are many ways to do this – with gentle massaging strokes as described in the video below or by using a dry brush or jade roller. The key is to keep the pressure light – lymphatic vessels run close to the surface of our skin so it doesn’t take much to get it going!
I finally get to talk about poop (a pelvic PT’s dream)! The liver relies heavily on regular bowel movements to clear out waste and toxins from our bodies. If you are constipated, your liver is working overtime. Typically, we should have a bowel movement every 1-3 days. Before resorting to laxatives or stool softeners if you’re backed up, be sure you are getting enough fiber in your diet and try bowel massage to get that stuff moving! Check out my recommendations for bowel massage in the video.
Acupressure / Acupuncture
During this last round of chemo, I found myself going back to a few key acupressure points that my acupuncturist recommended to assist with lymphatic drainage. I’ve been working two points primarily – one near my right elbow and one on my left shin. Also, check out the P6 point on the wrist, which helps significantly with nausea (even for pregnant women and those who get motion sickness).
Finally, my favorite way to get that lymph flowing – exercise! I recommend aerobic exercise, specifically, to increase circulation. It should be low intensity (you can still have a conversation while doing it) over a longer duration (20-30 minutes at a time), and you can pick your favorite activity like walking, biking, or swimming.
I hope this video helps you learn a a bit more about how to implement lymphatic drainage into your everyday life! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have!