No matter what time of year it is in Austin, it seems to be allergy season. It’s either mold, cedar, pollen or some other grass or allergen. Right now we seem to be getting a reprieve from the allergies, but with the temperatures varying wildly from 80 to 40 and back to 80 from day to day, half of the population seems to be sick. The point: we are a congested bunch! One non-chemical way to help your body rid itself of some of this excess fluid is through Manual Lymphatic Drainage of the neck and face. I offer this as an additional service after a massage, not only to aid in decongestion but also to combat the effects of being face-down in the face cradle during the massage itself. The best results come from receiving MLD from another practitioner, but I occasionally perform a quick self-MLD on my own face (like after a big cry). I find it not only effective in relieving my puffiness but also incredibly relaxing. A slightly abridged version of self-MLD is easy for almost anyone to do and yields great results!
An overview of the lymphatic system and an explanation of Manual Lymphatic Drainage can be found in previous blog posts (click the aforementioned for a more comprehensive refresher). In a nutshell, the lymphatic vessels absorb interstitial fluid, waste products, dead cells, bacteria, viruses, fats, and proteins from the body’s tissues, while also giving passage to immune cells as they are needed. The lymph nodes filter this fluid and remove damaging foreign elements, such as bacteria, while then producing additional infection-fighting white blood cells. The lymphatic system is critical to proper immune function. The purpose of MLD is to stimulate the lymphatic system to move lymph through the lymphatic vessels and nodes. (Watch this cool video tracking lymph flow before and after MLD using near-infrared fluorescence imaging!) For those with edema (post-injury, post-surgery, etc) or lymphedema, MLD is very effective at reducing the swelling. However, it is also a support for anyone who wants to reinforce immune function.
While the majority of lymph nodes are found in the intestinal tract, there are easily accessible and important nodes in the neck. Stimulating these nodes and encouraging them to pump any excess fluid out of the head will produce a surprising amount of relief for a puffy face! Plus the DIY version is quick and easy to do. However, before getting started it is important to recognize that MLD is not suitable for everyone. There are just a few but very important contraindications. If you present with the following conditions, you should NOT receive MLD or perform it on yourself:
- Fever or active infection (must wait until out of the acute phase)
- Untreated congestive heart failure (the lymph fluid ultimately moves back into the circulatory system, so if the heart is not functioning properly it is not a good idea to move MORE fluid into the heart)
- Acute, untreated DVT (deep vein thrombosis, for fear of dislodging the clot)
- Acute cellulitis (a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin, which can spread rapidly through tissues via lymph)
- Additional contraindications specifically for MLD on the neck: cardiac arrhythmia and hyperthyroidism
Provided you have none of the above conditions, you can follow along with this video to perform the most basic version of MLD for the head and neck on yourself. (DISCLOSURE: This is not me in the video. I am an even bigger dork on camera than I am in real life, so I will spare you from my antics. This is a massage therapist from Kentucky who has many good videos already on YouTube.)
The version I do starts with these steps, but includes gentle rhythmic strokes along the skin of the face, from midline outward. Treating the entire face is much more effective but even with this procedure, you will definitely get some relief. As always with MLD, the emphasis is on gentle movement along the skin not pressure down into the tissues.
A side note: I have heard other therapists say that MLD should not be used for allergies since allergies are caused by a hyperimmune response. In this theory, the therapist would not want to stimulate the immune system when it is already going haywire. However, I have been unable to find research or evidence that substantiates this claim. To the contrary, MLD is commonly used to treat the symptoms of autoimmune disorders. Personally, I have clinical experience treating clients with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis with MLD, with great success.
So, the next time your face feels puffy or congested, try this simple DIY lymphatic drainage. To take advantage of the time to get in some relaxation as well, try it while lying down on your back in a quiet place.