Recently in a discussion on my Facebook group, the idea of massaging full lymph nodes was mentioned as a way to speed up or “assist” the healing of dogs whose diets have already been optimized.
Although lymphatic drainage massage is one of those things that gets nothing but support from most natural-health-minded people, it’s not something that generally gets the nod from a Natural Hygiene perspective.
First, it should be explained that the lymph system is like the bathroom of the body. Its sister system, the bloodstream, is like the kitchen (credit to John Rose for these metaphors). The bloodstream delivers nutrients, while the lymph system removes waste. The only other difference is that the bloodstream has a pump, but the lymph system does not. It relies on muscular movement to keep things moving along. In sick and recovering dogs, lymph can become stagnated while the tissues of the nodes, glands and vessels repair sufficiently to do their jobs. Nodes can become enlarged with waste and even become inflamed.
Personally, when I’ve had swollen lymph nodes in the past, the last thing I wanted was somebody pressing down on them or even touching them, and we humans usually like being touched. For a dog, it’s going to be even less appealing because dogs don’t massage each other and have no biological reference for being massaged. It usually comes as a surprise for people to learn that dogs do not like being petted if they’ve never been trained to accept it. That a dog will put up with it and come to like it is a matter of conditioning, typically from a young age. If nodes are inflamed, they’re going to be very tender so there’s a good reason why a dog might not tolerate it.
We don’t see wild animals massaging each other, even the ones physically capable of doing so. It’s not because they’re not smart enough, it’s because they’re TOO smart.
We have no evidence that this practice offers any benefit that equals the cost of having people pursue yet one more wishful blind alley instead of doing the right things, waiting for healing, and trusting the incredible wisdom of the body. By the time people are doing everything that is popular on the ‘alternative’ health scene, proper feeding looks like it’s just another among the 10-15 things that are ‘necessary’ for healing to happen. Reiki, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, dry brushing, playing calming music for the dog and the like are not equivalent or even close, and they’re not necessary. Their only saving grace is they allow people new to Natural Hygiene the outlet they need to feel like they’re “doing something”. That’s a crutch, a problem that requires fixing (mental reconditioning), because it keeps a person in the same interventionist mindset. That person will always have to be placating the need to get involved in healing, like it’s something we can direct or hurry along. It’s always better to err on the side of keeping hands off but making the occasional exception when we can be fairly sure it’s going to help.
However, I realize most people don’t want to re-train their brains. If a dog owner new to RMF is so frustrated doing nothing intelligently (that’s what natural hygiene, and RMF, ARE) that they’re contemplating doing something worse, some of these fairly harmless interventions are closer to being acceptable. That’s a pretty low bar, though.
It needs to be understood that the people who teach and learn these techniques are told stories about what they do that are most often based on a misunderstanding of how the body works. Acupuncturists are taught that sticking fine needles in the body “frees up chi”, colonic therapists say their treatments “cleanse the colon”, and Reiki practitioners say they “purify energy”. There are so many others that I’m just not thinking of right now, and none of them are in line with Natural Hygiene.
In the case of lymphatic massage, if it isn’t done properly, and possibly even if it is, it might cause waste to be dispersed into places where it doesn’t belong, much like colonics do in humans (which explains the stimulating effect they sometimes have). Even if it moves it in the right direction, it’s just shifting the burden to other areas of the body and/OR stimulating the node or gland into action, rather like a tired horse that prefers to rest but will run if he is whipped.
When people focus on these so-called healing modalities where their own bodies are concerned, it’s usually because they want to avoid doing the really, really hard stuff, like addressing their addictions and making the sweeping changes to lifestyle habits that are necessary to enjoy health. And THEN allowing the body the time it needs to recovery. THIS is what explains the overblown popularity these modalities enjoy. It’s not because they actually work, in dogs or people. In our misguided world, it’s very important that we not allow the popularity of an idea to influence our decision to use it. We know for sure what works, and that is allowing the body the time it needs without interference. Harmless as these things may seem, and this one may actually BE harmless (we don’t know that), it still opens a portal to the wrong kind of thinking, and potentially much else that can’t be ascertained.
With so many uncertainties about both the benefits and the costs of any given modality, it’s difficult to either condemn OR give something a definite thumbs up. Minimally, the use of this kind of intervention should be limited to situations where a dog is: 1) already being fed optimally, 2) sedentary (meaning not able to exercise at all), 3) experiencing difficult detoxification, and 4) willing to tolerate or even seem to appreciate being touched in that area. It also should only be done by someone who knows how to properly do it.
If anything, this method should be thought of as a kind of emergency tool, kind of like enemas are used on humans in some situations. Generally, enemas are a very bad idea because they do not solve the underlying problem and they enable the colon to stay in its atrophied state, which means continued constipation and other problems. However, humans doing extended fasts often have difficulty passing stool when they begin eating again, so an enema can be justified in that very limited, rare, one-time circumstance. Maybe there’s a place for lymphatic massage in some rare situations involving dogs, but its unknown benefits and relative insignificance compared to other more important contributors to health need to be clearly understood, especially for those seeking to “do nothing intelligently”.