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Podcast Episode: Got Pain? Use Your Lymphatic System To Fix It with Dr. Perry Nickelston

Medically reviewed by 
Jessica Christie
Podcast Episode: Got Pain? Use Your Lymphatic System To Fix It with Dr. Perry Nickelston

If you're struggling with chronic pain, inflammation, or other persistent health issues that seem resistant to treatment, it may be time to turn your attention to an often-overlooked but crucial part of your body: the lymphatic system. According to Dr. Perry Nickelston, a leading expert in the field, addressing lymphatic flow and drainage could be the missing key to finally finding relief and promoting healing.


Understanding the Lymphatic System

"The lymphatic system is going to play a role in everything," states Dr. Nickelston. "If you've got a symptom, you can most likely link it to the lymphatic system playing some kind of pivotal role in it."

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, tissues, and organs responsible for removing waste, toxins, and other unwanted materials from the body. It's an essential immune system component, helping fight infections and diseases. When the lymphatic system becomes sluggish or blocked, waste and toxins accumulate in the body's tissues, leading to inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.

"Your lymphatic system is like the sewage system of your body," explains Dr. Nickelston. "It's responsible for getting rid of the waste products and toxins that accumulate daily." This intricate network works alongside your immune system to eliminate cellular debris, bacteria, and other harmful substances.

But here's the catch: when your lymphatic system isn't functioning optimally, those toxins start to accumulate, leading to a cascade of problems. "If you have a gut problem, you have a lymph problem, and if you have a lymph problem, you have a gut problem," says Dr. Nickelston. "They always go together."

The Link Between Lymphatic Drainage and Pain Relief

Dr. Nickelston firmly believes that addressing lymphatic issues can alleviate pain and discomfort in various body parts. "When you have stagnation in the lymphatic system, it can lead to inflammation, swelling, and pain," he explains. "By promoting lymphatic drainage, you're essentially flushing out those toxins and reducing the inflammatory response."

Common signs of lymphatic dysfunction include brain fog, neuroinflammation, puffiness, swelling, edema, difficulty losing body fat, excess mucus production, sinus issues, and generalized pain and achiness. "Your brain wants to drain to the collarbone. Your fingers want to drain to the collarbone. Your feet want to drain to the collarbone," says Dr. Nickelston. "But guess what? They can't get there until they pass the big six [drainage areas]."

But it's not just about pain relief. A well-functioning lymphatic system also supports immune health, aids in detoxification, and even improves brain function. "Poor oxygen flow to the brain and poor toxic removal from the brain can lead to neuroinflammation," warns Dr. Nickelston. "And that can change your perception of pain."

The "Big Six" Method for Lymphatic Drainage

Dr. Nickelston's "Big Six" method provides a simple yet effective way to stimulate lymphatic drainage and promote overall lymphatic health at home. Unlike the cardiovascular system, which has a built-in heart pump, the lymphatic system relies on muscle contractions and movement to keep lymph fluid flowing.

"Fluids move in the body based on pressure," explains Dr. Nickelston. "They function from high pressure to low pressure. And the lowest pressure for lymph is at the collarbone, so everything wants to drain there."

The "Big Six" targets six key areas where lymph nodes cluster. Massaging these areas in a specific sequence can help dislodge blockages and move lymph from high pressure (extremities) to low pressure (collarbone region). Here's how it works:

1. Collarbone: Start by massaging above and below the collarbone, where the lymph drains into the subclavian veins.

2. Neck: Move to the top of the neck, behind the angle of the jaw, where the largest lymph nodes in the neck reside, and the vagus nerve drops out of the brain.

3. Shoulder/Armpit: Next, focus on the shoulder joint and armpit region, where many lymph nodes gather.

4. Abdomen: Spend extra time massaging the abdomen, as this is where most of your lymphatic system resides.

5. Groin: Move to the crease of the groin at the hip, another key area for lymph flow.

6. Behind the Knees: Finish by massaging behind the knees, another lymph node cluster.

"You do 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 because I'm releasing the big clusters of stagnation and pressure so the feet and hands can pass through there," says Dr. Nickelston.

While professional lymphatic massage can help, you can easily do the "Big Six" at home using techniques like rubbing, tapping, dry brushing, or tools like gua sha. Dr. Nickelston advises following the 1-2-3-4-5-6 sequence, starting light without causing pain. An initial detox reaction of feeling worse before better is expected as wastes get moving.

He recommends doing the "Big Six" daily, perhaps first thing in the morning to "own the day" or before bed. Spend extra time on the abdominal area. Experiment to find what routine works best for you while being patient and allowing your body to adjust.

"It's not so much the techniques, but a way of thinking," explains Dr. Nickelston. "Know you need to follow the 1-2-3-4-5-6 order, and you're setting yourself up for real change."

The Fish Tank Analogy and the Importance of Movement

To illustrate the significance of lymphatic drainage, Dr. Nickelston uses a powerful analogy of a fish tank:

"Think about the human body as a fish tank. The cells would be like fish living in your fish tank, and they need to breathe oxygen and get nutrients," he says. "If the filter system [lymphatics] becomes dysfunctional, that fish tank looks murky, with algae, fungus, and bacteria growing. There's low oxygen, and the fish are struggling to breathe because they're living in their own waste."

He continues, "You may have an area of your body that really hurts, but you also have to address all those other areas that are painful too. Because if you don't get those other areas under control, the one that's lit up like a Christmas tree can't heal - you're always going to manifest pain in the most vulnerable part."

While the "Big Six" method is powerful, Dr. Nickelston emphasizes the importance of movement for optimal lymphatic health. "Two things move lymphatics, primarily movement and breathing," he says. "All movement moves lymph, but the problem is that people don't move a lot these days."

Dr. Nickelston recommends incorporating various forms of movement into your daily routine, such as rebounding (using a mini-trampoline), dry brushing, and even simple walking. The key is to keep your body in motion and vary your movements to prevent stagnation.

Breathing is equally crucial, as it creates a pumping action that aids lymphatic flow. "Diaphragmatic breathing, breathing from the diaphragm muscle, increases pressure in the body and decreases pressure on the body," explains Dr. Nickelston. "It's like a pump that moves fluids throughout the body, not just lymph."

The Lymph-Vagus Nerve Connection

Working the "Big Six" areas can aid lymphatic drainage and benefit the vagus nerve, a key nerve that interfaces with the lymphatic system and impacts everything from heart rate to digestion to inflammation levels.

"The largest lymph node in the neck sits right where the vagus nerve drops into your neck from your brain," explains Dr. Nickelston. "So I actually clear the toxins around my vagus nerve [when working that area]."

He suggests that poor lymphatic flow could hinder your vagus nerve function and related therapies: "Maybe one of the reasons you're not getting the progress you need from your vagus nerve work is because you're missing the lymphatic work first."

Empowering Self-Care and the Road to Healing

One of the most empowering aspects of Dr. Nickelston's approach is its emphasis on self-care. "My courses are designed for human beings to have self-care and take care of themselves," he says. "No matter your background or profession, anyone can learn and implement these techniques."

Taking charge of your lymphatic health addresses potential pain and discomfort and supports your overall well-being. "When you release lymphatics, you're going to increase fluid flow in the body and increase how the inflammation and the waste is moving," explains Dr. Nickelston. "You need to get it out, better out than in."

He also stresses the importance of patience and listening to your body's signals. "If you do the Big Six and you get a detoxification reaction because you're purging some of those toxins, that's okay, and that's expected," he reassures. "But you need your body to also be able to recover from that detox before you send more added."

Incorporating lymphatic drainage techniques into your daily routine can be a game-changer for chronic pain, inflammation, and other health issues. Addressing the often-overlooked lymphatic system gives your body the tools to flush toxins, reduce inflammation, and promote healing from the inside out.

As Dr. Nickelston eloquently puts it, "If you don't have fluid flow, stuff isn't getting anywhere. I don't care what kind of technique you do." By following his guidance and embracing the power of the lymphatic system, you're taking a crucial step towards reclaiming your health and well-being.


The Bottom Line

Whether you're dealing with a specific injury, chronic condition, or just general malaise and poor health, ignoring the lymphatic system is like ignoring a clogged drain. By incorporating simple lymphatic drainage practices into your daily routine, you can help remove backed-up wastes and get things flowing again – potentially resolving issues you may have been chasing for years.

"I'm going to stand by this until I'm dead," declares Dr. Nickelston. "You ain't going to find lymphatic issues on a blood test or scan. But if you have an autoimmune or chronic disease, inflammation, lymph issues – I already know you struggle to detox. Getting that lymph system under control could be the key to finally feeling better."

So, if you've been stuck in a cycle of chasing symptoms with little relief, it may be time to step back, look at the big picture, and start working with that often neglected lymphatic sewage system. As Dr. Nickelston shows, it could be the missing piece you need to get back on the path to better health and manage your chronic pain more effectively.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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