I love learning, and regularly take courses to develop and deepen my understanding. Recently, that led me to a course led by chiropractic physician Dr Perry Nickelston, called Lymphatic Mojo. You don’t have to be a healthcare practitioner to take this course, but I think I would have found it a bit overwhelming if I’d taken it with no prior knowledge!
So what is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is something my previous training (BSc physiotherapy, PG Dip Sports & Exercise Medicine, countless other postgraduate courses) has never really touched on. We know about getting “swollen glands” when we get sick, and we hear of people having lymph nodes removed if their cancer has spread – but beyond that, l probably couldn’t have defined the lymphatic system before booking onto the course.
So, in case you’re in the same boat, the lymphatic system is part of our body’s sewage and filtration system. I think of it as the refuse-collectors of the body, bin men who follow a prescribed route.
Dr Perry likens an optimally-performing body to a clear, healthy fish tank. But if you’ve ever kept fish, you’ll know that without an effective pumping and filtration system, the tank will get manky and stagnant pretty quickly! So just as you have to clean the fish tank pumps and filters regularly to make sure there aren’t any blockages, Dr Perry is a keen advocate of checking your lymphatic system regularly.
Healthy cell metabolism: nutrients in, waste out
Essentially, whenever we move, our cells use nutrients, and create waste products. That’s normal cell metabolism, and it’s how we’re meant to work. The nutrients are supplied by the arteries, and the waste is carried away by the veins and the lymph, follows a specific route around the body, and ends up being drained back into the heart. From there, it’s drained into the liver and kidneys, where the waste is filtered out (and then excreted in urine).
Unlike the venous (blood) system though which is pumped around by the heart, the lymphatic system doesn’t have an internal pump, and thus it’s more prone to getting clogged up. It tends to get especially clogged up at the lymph nodes, of which we have 400-700 all over our bodies.
It tends to get especially clogged up when our cells produce more waste than we can easily flush away. We produce extra waste when we are injured, unwell, tired, stressed, dehydrated, malnourished; when we drink too much alcohol, smoke (or vape), or live in areas with high pollution… all issues I see regularly in clinic, and often in combination.
And when our lymphatic systems are clogged up, we struggle to get enough nutrients to the cells as they are surrounded by stagnant waste – essentially a double whammy for the cells’ metabolism.
We can help our lymphatic systems to work well, essentially by doing everything I recommend in the foundation layer of my Health & Performance Pyramid: get good quality and enough sleep; manage our stress levels; drink plenty of water and eat well, incorporating plenty of protein, vegetables and good fats while avoiding sugar and processed foods. These are still fundamental principles. But sometimes we need an extra bit of a clear-out, especially if we are sick or injured, and that’s where Dr Perry’s techniques come in.
Unclogging the lymphatic system
Dr Perry taught quite a few manual (hands-on) techniques to stimulate and unblock the lymph nodes during the course; but his biggest message came up over and over again – everything in the body is connected, and you have to treat it as a whole. Looking at individual body parts in isolation is a short term and less effective way to treat injuries than integrating them into the rest of the body.
When it comes to the lymphatic system, that means starting at the ultimate drainage point (the heart) and unclogging any congestion there, and then gradually working backwards along the bin men’s route, node cluster by node cluster.
Over the course I did a lot of stimulation of my own lymph nodes. It’s not always comfortable and by the end of the second day, my system had definitely had enough. But… since I’ve started doing a daily mini lymphatic stimulation routine when I wake up in the morning, the knee I tweaked a couple of months ago playing tennis is definitely feeling better, as is my old hip injury, and I’ve slept well. So I plan to keep using some of Dr Perry’s techniques to my personal practice going forward!
I’ve also started checking my patients’ lymphatic systems in my physio practice, and have had some fairly astonishing results: reduced pain, reduced swelling, increased range of movement, even reduced brain fog. Of course, not everyone has congested lymph nodes, and lymphatic stimulation isn’t a panacea. But it’s another way into the body, another tool in my toolbox; and for the right patient, the results can be dramatic.
Do you think lymphatic congestion may be contributing to your injury that just won’t go away? Call my team on 0207 175 0150 and book an assessment session to let me check!