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Symptoms of Poor Lymphatic Drainage

If you have been struggling to feel well and are looking to restore your health and feel better, one of the first things most of us jump to these days is a cleanse or detoxing program. When it comes to detoxification, the lymphatic system is the most important and should always be addressed first.

Lymphatic System

When the lymphatic fluid backs up because it is sticky, congested, or blocked, fluid from the tissues containing toxins and waste cannot enter the lymphatic system to be disposed of by the body. This back up prevents the cells from getting necessary nutrients. At this point you are living in dirty fish tank water with no pump or filtration system.

When there is poor lymphatic drainage, the cells lose metabolic efficiency and can no longer do their job. If cells are in this state, it creates more inflammation, degenerative conditions develop, and sickness and disease occur. Effective lymphatic drainage is essential for basic tissue detoxification and is a fundamental part of any healing process.

Before you begin any cleansing and detox programs, you must fix the drainage system. You must identify the signs and symptoms you are experiencing in order to determine if you have poor lymphatic drainage.


Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine if your lymphatic system is sluggish or clogged:

  • How do you feel physically? (tired, stiff, swollen, slow, inflamed, fatigue, muscle pain, allergies, etc)

  • How do you feel mentally? (brain fog, depressed, stressed, anxious, headaches, loss of memory, reduced concentration, unmotivated, etc)

  • How does your skin look and feel? (dry, acne, blemishes, rash, irritations, itchy, tingling, thick, leathery, etc)

  • How does your body look? (puffy, juicy, change of shape, etc)

  • How do you think your metabolism works? (irregular bowel movements, stomach aches, bloating, discomfort, difficulty losing weight although you have made diet and workout changes, etc)


How do you know if you have poor lymphatic drainage?

Lymphatic System

There are numerous signs that lymphatic fluid is not moving efficiently and that toxins are building up in your body.

Some common issues that you may have experienced include swelling of the hands and having enlarged lymph nodes in your neck when you are sick. However, there are many other symptoms that can signify a clogged lymphatic system. These include:

1) Soreness/Stiffness – If you frequently feel sore or stiff, you may have sluggish or congested lymph fluid. You may also have lingering pain or tightness that cannot be explained.

2) Headaches – Inadequate lymphatic and sinus drainage creates inflammation and pressure which causes headaches. The lymphatic system also drains cerebrospinal fluid out of the brain along with the waste byproducts which allows new fluid to be formed.

3) Bloating and digestive issues – The abdominal area is rich with lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic fluid from the lower body and reproductive organs connects with the digestive lymphatic vessels in the abdomen. This region has the largest node in the body and filters proteins and fats from our digestive process. Constipation and irregular bowel movements is a common symptom of congested lymph as are food sensitivities.

4) Fatigue/Stress – There is much controversy surrounding the cause of chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue is known to last at least 6 months and interfere with your daily activities and social life. Repeated stress (physical, dietary, or emotional), traumatic events, inflammation, and hormone imbalances tend to be correlated with those experiencing fatigue. Those suffering from chronic fatigue and/or stress tend to have impaired lymph drainage which accumulates toxins affecting all of the body systems. Improving lymphatic drainage may be a key factor to feeling better since it is not treatable with rest.

5) Skin problems – Dry or itchy skin, loss of elasticity, premature aging, acne, rashes, and many other skin conditions may suggest a sluggish lymphatic system. Approximately 70% of our lymph system resides directly under the skin and is vital for skin health.

6) Swelling – Swelling can occur in all or part of a limb or another part of the body. It can be difficult to fit into clothes, shoes, and jewelry. At first the swelling may come and go. It may be difficult to discover what triggers the change of fluid retention. It may get worse during the day and go down overnight. Without treatment, it will usually become more severe and persistent. If your limbs are swollen you may experience aching, heaviness, difficulty with movement, repeated skin infections, different skin texture, folds developing in the skin, and pitting.

7) Allergies – Repeated sinus infections, worsening allergies, and an increased occurrence of head colds are signs that your lymphatic fluid is not effectively moving. When there is sinus congestion, bacteria and viruses can drain from the nasal cavities into the stagnant fluid located in the sinus cavity, causing an infection. The feeling of having a stuffy nose, congestion, and lots of mucous are symptoms of a backed up lymphatic system.

8) Brain fog – If the lymph fluid is not draining, toxins build up in old cerebrospinal fluid and causes you to feel exhausted, confused, and slow. Likewise, depression, anxiety, and mood swings have been tied to clogged lymphatics.



When the lymphatic system is clogged it creates swelling (edema) known as lymphedema, also known as lymphatic obstruction. Lymphedema may develop quickly, or it may develop slowly over several months. This condition can be overlooked or misdiagnosed as a weight problem or obesity.

What causes lymphedema?

There are 2 main types of lymphedemas:

  1. Primary Lymphedema is rare and inherited. It can develop in infancy, during puberty or pregnancy, or in some cases after the age of 35. It is caused by alterations (mutations) in genes responsible for the development of the lymphatic system. The faulty genes cause the parts of the lymphatic system responsible for draining fluid to not develop properly or not work as they should.

  2. Secondary Lymphedema develops in people who previously had a normal lymphatic system that then becomes damaged. It can be the result of cancer treatment, an infection, injury, inflammation of the limb, or a lack of limb movement.

Known common causes of lymphedema

  • Infections – An infection, such as cellulitis, can sometimes cause lymphedema. Severe cellulitis can damage the tissue around the lymphatic system, causing it to become scarred.

  • Inflammation – Medical conditions that cause tissue to become red and swollen can also permanently damage the lymphatic system.

  • Venous diseases – Diseases that affect the flow of blood through the veins can cause lymphedema in some people. The abnormal or damaged veins can cause fluid to overflow from the veins into the tissue spaces. This overwhelms and eventually exhausts the parts of the lymphatic system responsible for draining this fluid. Some venous diseases that can lead to lymphedema include DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and swollen and enlarged veins (varicose veins).

  • Obesity – People who are obese, particularly those who are severely obese, have an increased risk of developing swollen body parts. It’s not clear exactly why this is, but it’s been suggested that the extra fatty tissue affects the lymphatic channels in some way, reducing the flow of fluid through them.

  • Trauma and injury – Accidental injury to the lymphatic system can be a cause of edema. For example, it can occur after an accident where there’s extensive bruising or soft tissue loss.

  • Immobility – Movement and exercise help lymph drainage because muscle activity surrounding the lymphatic vessels massages fluid into and along them. Reduced movement can therefore lead to lymphedema because the fluid in the lymphatic system does not get moved along. For example, people who have limited mobility for a long period of time as a result of an illness, nerve damage or arthritis may be at risk for lymphedema.


Diagnosing lymphedema

In many cases, lymphedema can be diagnosed from your symptoms and medical history, and by examining the affected body part and measuring the distance around it to see if it’ is enlarged.

Treating lymphedema

There’s no cure for lymphedema, but it’s usually possible to control the main symptoms using techniques to minimize fluid build-up and stimulate the flow of fluid through the lymphatic system. Stay tuned for the greatest techniques out there!

Psychological impact

Living with a long-term condition that affects your appearance can cause a great deal of distress and lead to depression.

Due to the symptoms caused by lymphedema you may no longer find pleasure in the activities you usually enjoy.

You may not feel like your "old" self. Talking to other people with lymphedema can be encouraging and decrease feelings of isolation, stress, and anxiety.

If you are consistent with your treatment plan, your symptoms should gradually become less noticeable.

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