Hydrotherapy Circuits Helped Me Shed Stubborn “Water Weight” (AKA: Stagnant Lymph Fluid)
You may have heard about hydrotherapy. It’s the concept of moving between hot and cold water to rev up your circulatory system. But what most people don’t realize is that it can be used to help flush the lymphatic system. And I’ve learned that it can be especially helpful in shedding excess bulk post-pregnancy.
Back in June 2022, I was four months postpartum and not feeling my best. (You can read about my post-birth story and why I had excess swelling over here.) My body was sore all over. My ankles were still heavily swollen. And, as I would soon discover, I was actually carrying “water weight” all over my body. Especially in my legs and torso.
During our stay at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, I decided to go all-out on the spa treatments. I didn’t know if hydrotherapy was right for me, but I knew I had to start somewhere. Because this 5 star hotel focuses on overall well-being, from physical to mental, it felt like the ideal location to kick-start my post-pregnancy wellness journey. The Carillon’s beachfront spa is built around the concept of hydrotherapy circuits. I’d heard that hydrotherapy can help with swelling, but I wasn’t anticipating any notable results. I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that my waist was gradually shrinking! I’m certain that the extra volume was stagnant lymph fluid buildup as a result of cesarean surgery and/or pregnancy.
I realized that if I was dealing with this post-pregnancy, then perhaps other women were too. So I began documenting exactly what I was doing.
If you are also recovering from post-pregnancy swelling, lymphedema, or general edema swelling, then this article is for you. I hope that you find it helpful!
Below I will cover everything from assessing your body for stagnant lymphatic fluid, identifying post-pregnancy swelling vs. fat vs. excess skin, special considerations for C-section healing, and even how to re-create a hydrotherapy circuit at home.
Let’s jump in!
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About The Carillon Miami Wellness Resort
First things first, let me briefly touch on the Carillon Miami Wellness hotel and spa. It’s a worthwhile destination if you are looking to recover and relax post-pregnancy. Or if you’re simply looking to indulge while also improving your fitness, health, and overall wellbeing. This post is in no way sponsored and we paid for everything during our stay. But it was such an enjoyable experience that I wanted to share some information about it.
Located in North Miami Beach, this five-star luxury hotel boasts expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean spread across three buildings. The Carillon integrates wellness throughout the entire facility, from the corner store that stocks raw juices to the beach yoga classes that they offer.
I can’t say enough good things about the staff here! I’ve stayed at quite a few luxury hotels over the years. But the staff at The Carillon are easily some of the most memorable and sincere that I’ve ever encountered. Even the residents who own condos within The Carillon seem to love the staff. Every interaction is genuine, kind, and relaxed. You can tell that the people working here enjoy the ambiance of the hotel just as much as the visitors.
In this article, I will be focussing on the spa at The Carillon. Particularly the hydrotherapy circuits since those are relevant to anyone who may be experiencing swelling post-pregnancy. Scroll to the end if you want to dive right into the exact steps that I took to flush my lymphatic system using their complimentary hydrotherapy facilities. (PS: I also included some tips for recreating a similar experience at home.)
Some Background Information About Me
For those stumbling across this article with no background knowledge of my post-pregnancy situation: I am 4 months postpartum, had an unplanned emergency c-section, and have experienced an excessive amount of swelling.
While I’m not in a rush to get back to my pre-pregnancy body, I have been trying to make safe and slow progress towards a healthy, toned, and strong body. Some areas of my body seemed to be hanging on to additional volume that just didn’t feel like ‘normal’ fat.
Having studied what lymphatic fluid buildup looks like (I have a chronic condition called Lymphedema), I was skeptical if this new fullness was stagnant lymph fluid that needed to be flushed. Given the surgical intervention of my daughter’s birth, it would not surprise me if my lymphatic system had been further damaged. After all, there is a massive concentration of lymphatic vessels and nodules in the pelvis and hip area. It wasn’t until trying Hydrotherapy combined with Manual Lymph Drainage that I began to see the extra volume slowly melt away.
Will Hydrotherapy Work For You?
Before deciding if hydrotherapy will offer any slimming results for you, the first step is to determine if you even have excess fluid that needs flushing. The vast majority of women will have some extra fat on their body after giving birth. That’s totally normal and 100% something you should expect. However, hydrotherapy will have little to no effect on reducing body fat.
How can you tell the difference between fat and lymph fluid? Stagnant lymph fluid is malleable, might have a rippling appearance when flexing, and will hold on to imprints. Much like stretching fishnet stockings over bread dough, pooling lymph fluid can poke out between the net-like channels of your ligaments and circulatory system. If you examine the back of your thighs, that will give you an idea of what stagnant lymph fluid may look like on your body, since that is the most common place for it to accumulate in women. (This is why women have ”stubborn cellulite” on the back of their thighs.) Fat tends to feel firmer and less jiggly than fluid, though the difference is subtle.
Still not sure? Try pinching your cheek and then the soft area just underneath your jaw (where your tongue lies when flat.) Your cheek represents how fat feels and the squishy area under your jaw is another common place for lymphatic fluid to collect. (Note: if this area is full of fluid, you can reduce it with lymphatic drainage. Try a gua sha stone tool.)
Fat can shrink with exercise. However, stagnant lymph fluid will not go away with exercise alone. Lymph needs to be “flushed”—more on that later.
Is It Post-Pregnancy Fat, Skin, or Fluid?
I often hear people refer to the extra padding post-pregnancy as ”baby fat” or “baby weight.” ie: ”Once my baby’s a little older, I’m going to work on losing the baby fat.” But I’m starting to wonder if that’s truly the case for everyone. Is that new wobbly bulk that many of us deal with only extra fat? Or is it lymph fluid? Perhaps for some of us, it’s both?
In addition to fat and fluid, stretched skin post-pregnancy is a possibility too. Excess skin will have more of a deflated appearance and might even hang or droop a little. Fat, stretched skin, lymph fluid, or a combination of all three, could be adding extra bulk to your figure after giving birth.
Self-Assessment and Tell-Tale Signs of Lymph Fluid Buildup
Self-assessing for problems with your lymphatic system can be tricky for those who aren’t familiar. But I’m going to share the things that I personally look for.
1. Fluctuating Volume and a Cellulite-like Appearance
Post-pregnancy, the front of my torso and thighs took on same texture and under-the-skin ripples that the back of my thighs have always had. Basically, it appeared that I had cellulite in places that I never did before giving birth. Sure, I had fat on my stomach and thighs before giving birth. But this new stuff was softer, very squishy, and had a dimpled texture. I was able to pinch it in a way that I was never able to with normal fat. It felt unattached to anything under the skin and seemed to get worse at times when I was overly hot, drinking alcohol, or on my feet for long periods of time.
2. Swollen Legs, Ankles or Feet
I also developed canckles (swollen ankles) which would not go away. Not even elevating my legs was working. While I’ve always had some excess fluid around my feet and ankles, this was way more than usual.
You can see pretty clearly how swollen my ankles were on a daily basis in the above vacation photos. If you look closely, you’ll also see indentions from the leggings and tennis shoes that I wore several hours before the photos were taken.
3. Lingering Skin Indentions
Another tip-off that I was dealing with stagnant lymph fluid? Indentions everywhere. Stretchy clothing left marks. Coffee cups. My cellphone. My baby’s toes and hands. All of these were leaving lingering, shallow imprints all over my legs. Yes, I literally had baby hand prints sunken into my skin after she would lean on me. I wish I had taken a photo because it was just so mind boggling!
If you notice imprints that seem to linger on your legs or torso for several hours, there’s a very good chance that lymphatic fluid buildup is the culprit.
Special Considerations for C-Section Scars and Healing
My daughter came into this world via emergency c-section. I’ve spoken to several other moms who’ve also delivered via cesarean. And I’ve done lots of reading about what to expect after this type of invasive surgery. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but my understanding is that it’s very common to develop bulky deposits above or below the surgical scar. My c-section scar had a bit of a protruding “shelf,” as I’ve heard it referred to, which was very obvious from the side.
A lot of articles and videos that I encountered focused on physical exercises to reduce the bulk above and below the incision. However, I’d like to introduce a new concept: your c-section shelf might be stagnant lymph fluid. I’m happy to say that lymphatic fluid drainage treatments, combined with scar massage, has massively helped reduce the appearance of my c-section shelf! Keep reading to learn how I did this.
How Can Cesarean Surgery Damage the Lymphatic System?
Because of the intrusive and damaging nature of a Caesarean surgery, you may now have physical blockages and “dead ends” in your body where various things were cut. Much like cutting a stem from a tree, invasive surgeries can sever the flow of circulatory channels. This could include lymphatic vessels, which, like veins, are found throughout the body just beneath the surface of the skin. Those born with a robust lymphatic system don’t tend to experience much swelling in general. But for those of us with a weaker lymphatic system, any damage to the network can result in very obvious swelling.
The human body has a large network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels in the lower abdomen and groin areas. A c-section may inadvertently cut some of these very important vessels and nodules. This can result in ruining some of the body’s ability to move fluid out of the lower torso and legs.
If you suspect that your c-section shelf may be stagnant lymph fluid, you should absolutely give manual lymph drainage (M.L.D) a try! This should initially be done by a certified professional so that you can observe and learn the correct technique. M.L.D. is something that you can, and should, practice on your own at home once you learn how. (Note: M.L.D. uses very gentle and specific pulsing motions. Avoid anyone who tries to aggressively “push” or move the swelling—they don’t have the correct M.L.D. training for what you’re dealing with; that type of aggressive technique doesn’t activate the lymph network correctly.) I also have a few other tips for self-management in this article on post-C-section swelling.
How to Flush the Lymphatic System with Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is a surprisingly traditional wellness routine dating back hundreds of years. It centres around the very basic concept of moving from a warm environment to a cool environment, usually using water. Hydrotherapy is an effective way to flush the lymphatic system because it gets your circulatory system pumping without overexerting yourself. The pumping action of your body’s circulatory system comes from back-and-forth exposure to hot and cold. One opens your circulatory channels and the other constricts them.
At The Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, the hydrotherapy circuit is free to use for anyone staying at the hotel!
A note on water’s role in lymphatic drainage: Hydration plays a critical role in flushing the lymphatic system. Once the lymph fluid starts moving it only has one way of being eliminated from the body: through urination. Yep, you’ll see better, faster results the more water you drink and the more you “go.”
Throughout your hydrotherapy circuit, drink cool water to stay super hydrated and increase detoxification via your circulatory system. The Carillon spa has a fresh water station in the changing area and biodegradable cups. (Though feel free to bring your own thermos to fill up.)
The Exact Hydrotherapy Circuit Steps That I Used
Here are the exact steps that I took to reduce “water weight” and get my Lymphatic system pumping.
While this is the circuit that I performed specifically at the Carillon Miami Wellness Spa, I’ve also included my own tips for recreating this circuit at home in the green boxes below.
- 1 minute Humid Heat: Crystal Steam Room or Herbal Latonium
- 1 minute Cool Down: Experiential Rain (Tropical Monsoon or Polar Mist)
- 1 minute Dry Heat: Finnish Sauna
- 1 minute Cool Down: The Igloo
- 5 – 10 minutes of Horizontal Rest + manual lymphatic drainage
Repeat the circuit 3 – 6 times in total. Do not overdo the heat! Spending more time in a steam room or sauna will not expedite your results and could actually make things worse.
Step 1: Humid Heat
Duration: 1 minute
Start your circuit with either The Crystal Steam Room or Herbal Latonium. Relax briefly in these hot and steamy environments while consciously taking deep and slow abdominal breaths. Those with a sluggish lymphatic system should be wary of humidity. So don’t linger too long in either the Steam Room or the Laconium!
To kickstart your lymphatic system gradually, try gently lifting one leg at a time and doing small circles with your ankles.
Recreate at Home: Simply turn on your shower using hot water and let it fill with steam. Step in for a few minutes, but don’t linger in the hot water too long. (See my point above about humidity.)
Step 2: Cool Down
Duration: 1 minute
Between the two hot treatments, I’d recommend jumping into the Experiential Rain showers. I liked the Tropical Monsoon and Polar Mist options. Not only do the showers provide a brief cool down, but they are also a treat for the senses. LED lights change colours while a nature soundtrack echos, mimicking a tropical thunderstorm.
Recreate at Home: Switch your shower to a cool water setting.
Step 3: Dry Heat
Duration: 1 minute
Lay down in the sauna and elevate your legs a little. Try to do a few slow up and down leg lifts to activate the lymph nodes inside the hips.
Recreate at Home: This step is a little difficult to recreate at home, but you can try partially filling a bathtub with very hot water. Add some essential oil to the water or burn some incense to set the mood. Sit beside the bathtub, not in it, and slowly breathe in the steam.
Step 4: Cool Down
Step into the Igloo for a final cool down. Select your desired scent to start the icey mist treatment. Personally, I loved the eucalyptus one! The icy mist will fall for only thirty seconds. So you’ll need to push the button a second time to get a full minute of treatment.
For extra circulation impact, try sitting down on the floor and stretching your legs out into the cold mist. Gravity is your worse enemy when it comes to stagnant lymph fluid, so be sure to focus any cooling treatments on the lower body since this is where the most swelling tends to occur.
Recreate at Home: Switch your shower to its coldest water setting. Allow the cold water to run over your body from head to toe.
Step 5: Rest Horizontally + M.L.D
The lymphatic system drains UPWARD against gravity. Laying down with your legs slightly elevated will further assist the lymph fluid to move upward. Your body’s lymph fluid has to move up your back, over your shoulders, and then into your chest to complete its cycle.
Try doing some manual lymphatic stimulation while you rest horizontally. Activating the lymph node clusters up and down your body will expedite the fluid flushing process. And this is something you should do regularly if you struggle with lymphatic fluid buildup.
Try this simple manual lymphatic drainage routine :
- Using gentle pressure, position your fingertips on the back of your neck and shoulder area and then drag them forward over your shoulders and towards your collarbones. Do this five times.
- Pulse your fingertips across your collarbones, down the sides of your neck and inside your underarms.
- Make the same gentle pulsing motion over your hip area, across your lower abdomen, around your kneecaps, and behind your knees.
- Using your thumb and forefinger pinch the back of your heel (around the tendon) 5 – 10 times.
- Sweep with your fingertips along the entire length of your leg from your ankles to your abdomen.
- Repeat the entire lymphatic system activation once more.
Cardio’s Role in Flushing the Lymphatic System
Light cardio, like swimming laps or walking at a medium-intensity on a treadmill, can keep your lymphatic system flowing after it’s been activated.
If you’re taking on a wellness journey at The Carillon, it’s worth mentioning that the fifth-floor rooftop pool is accessible from the Spa. I swam several laps between circuits to further boost my circulation. Water provides the perfect weightless exercise that your muscles need to move lymph fluid while also counteracting gravity.
You don’t need to be a pro to get an effective workout in the water! Simply grabbing onto the ledge and kicking your legs behind you is enough.
Body Treatments That Compliment Hydrotherapy Circuits
These massages offered at the Carillon may complement or enhance the hydrotherapy circuits to further increase lymphatic movement and drainage:
- The Rejuvenating Massage – A targeted massage that digs into sore areas of the body and ends with a foot scrub that can help boost circulation.
- Himalayan Salt Stone Massage – My personal favourite!! If you’re a new mom with a sore back, this will melt the tension out of your muscles. Ask for Dino, he was incredible and seemed knowledgeable about the lymphatic system.
- Rose Quartz Massage – A very gentle massage, similar to the Himalayan massage but with little heat and less pressure.
And these alternative treatments can also be added on to help boost circulation:
- Cryotherapy (full body or targeted)
- Prism Light Pod
- Ballancer Pro – Coming soon to the Carillon. I wish they had this device when I visited! But sadly it hadn’t arrived. This is a lymphedema-targeted medical treatment that can be used by anyone struggling with stagnant lymph fluid.
At Home Techniques to Improve Lymphatic System Circulation
I know for most people the thought of escaping to a spa, or even seeing an M.L.D. specialist, is just not realistic. That’s why I wrote this article with my suggestions for keeping your lymphatic system pumping while at home: Read 6 Tips to Reduce Swelling After C-Section or Giving Birth (or anytime really.)
I’d recommend the following YouTube videos too:
- Facial Lymphatic Drainage: Step by Step Lymphatic Drainage Massage Tutorial
- General Lymphatic System Stimulation: Abdominal Lymphedema and Swelling in the Stomach Treatment – By a Lymphedema Physical Therapist
- C-Section Scar Massage – From 6 Weeks
- How To Reduce C-Section Belly Pouch | REDUCE C-SECTION BULGE WITH SCAR MASSAGE