A technique which is starting to gain traction amongst runners in North American clinics is manual lymphatic drainage, (MLD). Often referred to as ‘detoxification massage’, or ‘lymphatic detox’, MLD is a form of massage-based therapy that breaks up congestion and helps eliminate toxins from the body, improving both the circulatory and immune systems.
Ask the average person what ‘lymph’ is and you’ll probably get a blank stare in return. And yet, it’s part of a critical body process, essential to healthy living and athletic performance. The body’s lymphatic system is a vast network of organs and tissues which work together to eliminate waste and fight illness by pushing lymph, an infection-blasting, white blood cell-infused liquid throughout your body. These white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, are triggered the moment your lymph nodes detect the existence of a potentially harmful virus or bacteria within your blood system. The lymphocytes release antibodies that kill the organisms and halt the spread of infections. If you’ve ever had swollen lymph nodes, painful lumps in the neck, groin or armpit, now you know why.
Lymph has a secondary, equally critical role in maintenance, helping the body remove waste from damaged tissues. As blood delivers nutrients to cells, some of it becomes saturated with toxic debris, and while the clean blood heads back into your venous system, the waste becomes lymph. From there, the body’s natural movements push the lymph up through your body to the nodes where it can be filtered, eventually re-entering the bloodstream through special veins in the neck.
The challenge is that the lymphatic system can sometimes become blocked or otherwise restricted, reducing its effectiveness. This is especially so after strenuous exercise such as a long marathon, or as the result of surgery or an injury. A registered massage therapist trained in MLD knows exactly where and how to apply pressure. In this technique, the therapist uses light, rhythmic, rolling movements, and a gentle to medium pressure which literally pumps the lymph along its natural path.
For runners, MLD is particularly advantageous. Other than the obvious benefits of lowered recovery time and improved immune system functioning, the therapy can also increase your energy reserves and stamina, potentially powering you through that last mile. Many patients have noticed a substantial boost the day after MLD, making it especially useful as a pre-race conditioner. It can also help you manage pre-race anxiety, and it can even improve your digestion and elimination, a clear must for distance runners.
In short, a properly functioning lymph system will help you feel fit and healthy, with an immune system that is primed and ready to fight. But if the system is sluggish, it can bring you right down, leaving you fatigued and weak, prone to illness and infection. So, if you feel down, or if you’re looking for a great way to gain an edge, perhaps it’s time to see what all the fuss is about and book your first MLD.