This is the second installment in our "Myth"conceptions About Lymph Massage series (full list here). Today we're going to take a look at the myth that Lymph Massage doesn't speed healing (or does it?)... and of course the counter-myth that it does (or doesn't). As always, there is some truth on both sides and your answer is somewhere in the middle.
Let's get to it!
Dr. Andrew Weil
"After surgery, little evidence supports faster healing. Normal, healthy people don’t need lymphatic massage because the lymphatic system works fine on its own."
However, it’s still a myth.
Why? For a couple of reasons.
One, because after surgery or injury, things aren’t normal and don’t work fine on its own. As I cover in the course, lymph moves mainly as a side effect of other processes – most of which are slowed down or inhibited while recovering from injury or surgery.
Lymph Massage doesn't speed healing in a normal, healthy, non-overwhelmed system.
Second, lymphatic treatment has been shown to speed healing in some cases (the little evidence part) – primarily where there is significant swelling that is slowing down fluid turnover. The less swelling, the less stagnation, and therefore less effect from lymph work. Conversely, the more swelling, the more stagnation, the more effect lymphatic work can have.
Lymph Massage doesn't speed healing per se... but it can prevent it from being slowed down.
The lymphatic system operates kind of like a drain. A storm drain can handle all normal flows of water. But what happens when there is more water coming down than it was designed for?
Your body is a master of “just enough” – it maintains its systems at a level based on what is needed most of the time. It’s the same principle of when you stop working out and start to lose strength or you start getting winded more easily – use it or lose it. But while you can condition your muscles and lungs to a higher performance level, you can’t condition your lymph system to do the same.
The lymphatic system is a second circulatory system parallel to the veins but with a slightly different role to play.
It is becoming clearer to science that it has been neglected in its importance, often viewed as an afterthought instead of having a primary role. But guess what? Recent investigations are starting to uncover the error in that assumption…
The lymph system is just as important as any other body system.
Lymph Massage doesn't speed healing, but an overwhelmed lymph system won't let you heal as fast as normal.
Simply put, the lymphatic system is designed to handle a certain range of “flow” or volume of material, but that level is exceeded in extreme events or conditions such as surgery and injury. Those are irregular events. And although your body is equipped to adapt to them, (hopefully) they are not regular events that your biology stays prepared for- they are instead extreme events that exceed capacity for your body to handle normally on its own.
The evidence that LF “speeds” healing is mixed (but also not plentiful on either side of the argument). However the evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, points to LF making the healing process a less-miserable experience.
And trust me, I speak from personal experience with my own surgical recovery.
More to the point (as I discuss later)...
Lymphatic Treatment is more effective for preventing slowed healing than in speeding normal healing.
So what does that even mean?
It means that keeping things flowing helps to avoid the traffic jam that results from too much material in the system. (And since we’re mythbusting here, the Myth Busters proved it in this episode with actual traffic). Improving the flow through the lymph system helps prevent the congestion from slowing everything to a stop.
It is true that if you are a healthy, active person and staying within conditions that you would normally experience regularly (or condition yourself to), your lymph system will operate just fine barring a pathological condition (otherwise called being sick).
But when you operate at extremes like high-level athletes or are dealing with an extreme event like a surgery or moderate-to-severe injury, your lymph system often becomes overwhelmed. Notice I said “often”. It is not guaranteed and some people with a “similar” condition can have drastically different experiences of it.
LM helps more people get into the healing-faster-than-average category because average includes the ones who are the most bogged down and congested (i.e. healing slower).
You don’t want to be the lowest common denominator, do you?