In Touch

Feeling sluggish?

I am often asked to describe the benefits of massage, but I think one benefit often overlooked is increased lymph flow. The lymphatic system removes excess fluid, protein, and waste products from the tissue spaces and sends them into the blood-circulatory system. The lymphatic system is crucial for maintaining normal tissue drainage. Edema is the resulting liquid that collects in a region from soft tissue injuries such as sprains and bruising, lack of exercise or poor diet.

One of the areas I often encounter edema is in the ankles. Edema can be in the superficial skin tissue or in the deeper muscular bellies. My theory on ankle swelling is rather simplistic and more applicable to tissue trauma than vascular or systemic causes. If you’ve ever sprained your ankle you soon discover that the swollen and tender area that used to be your ankle is now more akin to an over-inflated tire and for some strange reason is being ignored for the most part by the lymphatic system. Gravity and distance from the heart are obvious factors, but my experience with this type of condition is more related to what I refer to as “septic balloon animal ankle.”

Here’s what happens, according to my wacky theory. Trauma begets swelling, which increases lymphatic pressure, which decreases lymphatic flow. The ankle, knee or any joint in the body become dams that restrict the outflow of fluids, akin to the joints of a balloon animal. The inflammatory response is essentially static in this situation long beyond its useful duration and creates a septic site of pain and inflammation from pooled used cell metabolites and proteins. This is why ankle sprains can remain inflamed for weeks, resulting in their range of motion becoming limited from increased joint pressure.

Lymph travels along drainage ducts that lead to lymph nodes and eventually empty into major veins near the heart. The ducts have valves that allow fluid to travel in one direction only. It is believed that there are smooth muscles that provide contraction in the lymphatic ducts, but muscular contraction appears to be the major force producing lymphatic drainage.

Massage works to stimulate lymphatic flow while relieving soft tissue congestion so that the circulatory and lymphatic systems can perform with less impedance. The results are often dramatic and rewarding as these tissue floodgates are opened and the joint returns to its normal size. Remember that an acute injury requires ice and elevation.

Here is a yoga drainage/restorative technique for legs: Sit and scoot as close to a wall with legs along wall also. Lie down on your side and scoot your bottom so it is in contact with wall. Elevate legs as you roll onto your back. Relax and focus on your breathing for five minutes and let gravity do its thing!

Ted Schmid is the owner of Kingston Therapeutic Massage in the old Kingston Hotel on Washington Boulevard. He specializes in deep tissue massage and neuromuscular therapy, and has been in practice 15 years. Contact him at (360) 297-5441.