Here’s a modified version of the presentation I gave at Walk With a Doc in Southmoor Park on Saturday. (If you were there, hi! It’s great to see you!) We talked about massage and its positive effects on the immune system. As we head into cold and flu season, it’s a great time to set up your self-care!
Much like the circulatory system, the lymphatic system has a specific job: to move fluid around your body. The difference is in the fluid. The circulatory system moves your red blood cells around, which are the transport for oxygen and other nutrients your cells need. The lymphatic system transports your lymph, also known as your lymphatic fluid or white blood cells.
You might be familiar with lymph nodes, which are located in clusters around the body and filter lymphatic fluid. They’re part of the lymphatic system along with lymph vessels, which run through your body just like your blood vessels.
Now, the circulatory system also has your heart, which acts as a pump for your blood so it can keep moving. The lymphatic system, unfortunately, has no pump. It’s entirely gravity-fed, which means that sometimes lymph will collect and have trouble flowing through the body.
Massage stimulates your lymphatic fluid and helps it to flow around your body, and to flow back toward your lymph nodes, which can filter the viruses and other toxins your lymph has picked up. This helps your lymph do its job better.
Recent studies have shown that massage can also help actually stimulate the production of white blood cells. A study from 2010 found that when a group of healthy people received regular massage, they experienced an increase in lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that work to prevent disease. This was Swedish massage, known as “relaxation” massage — so it didn’t even have to be deep-tissue work. Other studies have shown increases in the development of NK cells, which kill viruses quickly, in people with HIV and with Stage 1 or 2 breast cancer.
If you’re already under the weather, wait until you’re well again to come in for a massage. Not only do you want to keep your cold to yourself, but massage will actually make you feel worse. It’s not a cure for what ails you — but it is an important tool to prevent you from ailing.
Be well, and remember: You can do anything!