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  • Writer's pictureAbby Maleport

Why lymphatic drainage massage can help Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is an often debilitating syndrome that is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Along with the pain complaints, sufferers also sight tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, mental "fog", irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and nonpainful signals. This disorder often plaques women more so than men.

Although there is no cure for this disorder, medications, stress-reduction, exercise, relaxation and lymphatic drainage massage can help. According to the US National Institute of Health, fibromyalgia

  • is not a progressive disease.

  • is never fatal

  • will not cause damage to the joints, muscles, or internal organs.

Let's take a look at why I believe, along with researchers that manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a great alternative approach to treating fibromyalgia.

Traditional Massage Therapy. This is one of the oldest methods of health care still in practice. It involves the use of different manipulative techniques to move your body's muscles and soft tissues. Massage can reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion in your joints and increase production of your body's natural painkillers. It often helps relieve stress and anxiety. However, your typical Swedish massage still may cause pain due to the hypersensitivity of the skin and tissues with deeper pressure. I encourage instead trying a lymphatic drainage massage or MLD.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage: This technique was developed in 1932 by dr. Emil Vodder, a Danish physiotherapist. It is a gentle and slow skin stretching that stimulate the superficial lymphatic system. While this technique was designed for treatment of lymphedema and lymphatic disorders, it has many more widely accepted applications. Your lymphatic system is responsible for waste transport, fluid balance regulation and is a large portion of your immune system. The technique itself is immensely relaxing and stimulates your paprasympathetic nervous system which is our "rest and digest" system. Due to the repetitive light touch, this technique also initiates an analgesic effect which contributes to the pain relieving properties. Here are the studies of importance:

Manual lymph drainage therapy using light massage for fibromyalgia sufferers: A pilot study. Conclusions: Patients’ experiences of symptom relief from manual lymph drainage therapy (MLDT) by the Vodder method were examined. Seventeen women aged 49.0±8.7 (mean±SD) years who had had fibromyalgia for 16.9±10.1 years were treated with light massage with the MLDT technique for 1 h on 12 occasions during a 4-week period. Symptoms were evaluated using visual analogue scales (VAS). Pain, stiffness, sleep, sleepiness and well-being all improved during the treatment period. Two months after treatment cessation, significant improvement remained in pain

Comparison of manual lymph drainage therapy and connective tissue massage in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. Conclusions: For this particular group of patients, both MLDT and connective tissue massage (CTM) appear to yield improvements in terms of pain, health status, and health related quality of life. The results indicate that these manual therapy techniques might be used in the treatment of primary fibromylagia. However, MLDT was found to be more effective than CTM according to some subitems of Fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQ) (morning tiredness and anxiety) and FIQ total score. Manual lymph drainage therapy might be preferred; however, further long-term follow-up studies are needed.

The pain relieving factors of MLD are related to the rhythmic repetitive strokes that work with your bodies pain suppressing ability by nerve stimulation via The Gate Theory. Nonpainful stimuli can override and reduce painful stimuli by blocking its conduction to the central nervous system where it is interpreted by the brain as pain. The best way to describe this is relating it to the example of stubbing your toe. You know when you stub your toe really hard and you jump and flail around, often slapping you thighs to get over the pain. You are doing this to subconsciously use the Gate Theory to reduce the painful stimuli by distracting your brain with other things. So cool!

There is also new emerging research that shows the discovery of a lymphatic system in the brain that they are calling the glymphatic system. "Essentially all neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products. Understanding and ultimately discovering how to modulate the brain’s system for removing toxic waste could point to new ways to treat these diseases. ”Picture central nervous system inflammation. Free radicals are punching holes in membranes. Cells are dying. Pathogens are wreaking havoc. The "garbage" that all this activity produces in the form of dead and damaged cells and pathogens needs to be flushed out of the system before more damage results. The classic example of a bollixed up CNS lymphatic system causing disease could be Alzheimer's with it's accumulations of amyloid proteins. (5)

Wouldn't that be amazing if MLD helped with neurological disorders like Alzheimer's. This is exactly why I love the lymphatic system so much. I truly believe that we haven't quite unlocked its power and potential! Relating this back to Fibromyalgia, if the brain and spinal cord are not processing pain sensations correctly, could it also be because of a buildup of toxins? Food for thought.

Fibromyalgia can be debilitating, why not try a few MLD sessions?? It might just be the ticket to help managing your widespread pain.


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