Hashimoto's is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It is an autoimmune disorder, which means it occurs when immune cells attack healthy tissue instead of protecting it. In Hashimoto's thyroiditis, immune cells mistakenly attack the healthy thyroid tissue, causing inflammation of the thyroid. Ahead, Lymphatic Therapist and Nutrition Coach, Amanda Holden, shares how bodywork may help to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of Hashimoto's.
Inflammation is the body's response to something irritating—like a cut, exposure to toxins, or a pathogen. When your immune system senses that something is wrong, it sends white blood cells to the damaged area to begin fighting any germs and healing tissues. The damaged area becomes swollen with increased blood flow, which carries inflammatory mediators that allow white blood cells to pass through your vessels more easily.
Typically, inflammation protects our tissues from injury and infection. However, our immune system can also go into overdrive and cause chronic health conditions.
Chronic inflammation of the thyroid can have damaging consequences over the long term. In the case of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, it can lead to hypothyroidism if your thyroid gland becomes so damaged it cannot produce enough thyroid hormones for your body to function correctly. The good news? You can manage inflammation with an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.
What is bodywork?
Bodywork is any therapeutic technique that involves working with the human body. It encompasses many modalities—from Reiki to acupuncture, massage therapy, and even meditation.
Manual lymphatic drainage
One such bodywork modality is manual lymphatic drainage. Manual lymphatic drainage is the act of gently moving lymph through the body. This movement helps release biochemical waste from body tissues and decreases your sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight" response.
The lymphatic system
The heart pumps blood out through the arteries into the body's tissues and organs. Most blood gets sent back to the heart through our veins, containing carbon dioxide, unused proteins, and other waste products. A small percentage of blood is lymph—a fluid component containing substances too big to get back into the veins—that leaks into the body's tissues through our capillaries.
Here is where the lymphatic system comes into play. The lymph passes through tiny holes in the walls of lymphatic capillaries. The lymphatic system does not have its own pump system, so naturally, the lymph gets pushed toward the heart as we breathe and move our muscles.
The lymph moves from the lymphatic capillaries into larger collector vessels with one-way valves to keep the lymph moving in the right direction. As the lymph moves back toward the heart, it passes through lymph nodes to filter out bacteria and waste. Finally, when the toxins are filtered, the lymph travels to one of two large lymphatic ducts just below the neck to transfer into a large vein and back into the bloodstream.
We can also support this process by manually moving the lymph. For manual lymphatic drainage, a massage therapist moves their hands very lightly across the entire body in the direction of the heart so that the heart can pump fluid through.
The lymphatic system plays a crucial role in regulating the inflammatory response. When the body experiences inflammation, the lymphatic system ensures the balance of the fluid in our tissues. When fluid builds up, it expands lymphatic vessels that let inflammatory cells into the lymphatic system, thereby removing them from the inflamed tissue. So, influencing drainage of the lymphatic system helps to reduce inflammation.
How manual lymphatic drainage works
While considered a massage technique, lymphatic drainage is quite different from traditional bodywork. In a traditional massage, the objective is to work along muscle tissue to reduce physical strain and tension.
Manual lymphatic drainage works specifically on the lymphatic system. It may help manage symptoms of Hashimoto's like joint pain, headaches, fatigue, skin problems, and digestive issues—to name a few. By reducing inflammation, we can reduce symptoms. It can be a gentle way to reduce inflammation and help minimize symptoms associated with an autoimmune disease.
If you consider integrating lymphatic drainage into your holistic approach to healing, consider these factors:
- Find a licensed practitioner. Manual lymphatic drainage takes additional education and is not part of basic massage training.
- Lymphatic drainage is most effective in a series of sessions. How much inflammation a client has will determine how many sessions are appropriate.
- Drink a lot of water after a session to remove held toxins. Also, sweating through a hot shower or bath will be beneficial. Even after drinking water and sweating out your toxins, you can sometimes experience cold-like symptoms for the next day or so. This experience is typical and is a good indication that your body needed to detox.
Lymphatic drainage and autoimmune disease
While more research still needs to be done, existing evidence suggests that, at least, there is a dysfunction of lymphatic flow in autoimmune diseases—especially rheumatoid arthritis. Manual lymphatic drainage may improve lymphatic function to reduce tissue inflammation in autoimmune diseases. It may also regulate your immune system to reduce the severity of autoimmune responses.
Manual therapies to improve lymphatic flow may be an excellent addition to your whole-body treatment plan to improve overall health and well-being.