Our lymphatic system is an interconnected system of vessels that are in all aspects of our bodies- under our skin, deep within the tissue, surrounding our organs and most recently discovered- in our brain! It’s a highway of vessels, similar to our circulatory system, except instead of blood, lymph runs through it. The "lymph" is fluid that brings nutrients to our cells, collects waste from cells, and provides a major highway for our immune system by allowing our white blood cells to travel through it. Unlike the circulatory system in which the main pump of the system is the heart, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump. The movement of lymph is largely dependent on our muscles contracting which is one reason why movement is so important.
Our lymphatic and circulatory systems are intimately connected. Our lymphatic system dumps into the circulatory system through the thoracic duct where the lymph fluid enters the blood stream to be pumped by the heart. This allows the immune cells to be dispersed through the body and the waste can be expelled from the body.
When do we typically hear about the Lymphatic System?
We normally hear about the lymphatic system in the context of sickness and cancer. Someone may have swollen lymph nodes when they are sick. Lymph nodes are little hubs in which our immune cells (B cells) are stored, replicate and learn. When we have a swollen lymph node it means this node is producing immune cells. In breast cancer they will often look at the lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread to the lymphatic system. It is a dangerous situation when the cancer gets into the lymphatic system because it allows the cancer to spread out. The last place we hear about it is with women who have had breast cancer. They sometimes will have a mastectomy and some lymph nodes removed. They then will likely develop lymphedema. This is a swelling of the area where lymph nodes used to be. This happens when you break up the highway. The lymphatic fluid is given a place to fill up and there’s no route for it to get out. Since lymph is fluid, it produces what we know as swelling.
Why are we talking about the lymphatic system?
It is an integral part of the immune process, whose function is so vital to staying healthy, and I feel it is under loved.
- Many people are too sedentary. If our lymphatic system only moves via muscle contraction, and we are sitting most of the day. We get stagnation. Have you ever had your feet swell after a long flight? This is because of stagnation.
- Stagnation causes disruption. We need to be able to recycle the waste products that are produced by our cells.
How do we help our lymphatic systems?
- Move your body- stretch, yoga, walk, jog, etc.
- Dry skin brushing – The premise of this is to use a dry skin brush (loofa) and gently and lightly brush the surface of your skin from the tips of your fingers all the way up the arms, to the chest and from the toes up to the groin. We want to use feather-like strokes because the lymph vessels are very small and fragile and they can easily collapse.
- If you’re a woman, this should be done on the breasts as well. The underside especially. Because you spend a lot of time in bras, this can constrict the lymph tissue on the underside especially. This moves the lymph so that we can get new, fresh lymph through those vessels. This is not a treatment for anything in particular but it helps to add better facilitation of lymphatic recycling that takes 1-2 minutes before you go to bed.
- Phytolaca oil
- Low-level laser therapy – this is something we do here at our clinic.
- Cupping - a wonderful myofascial technique that has its roots in Chinese medicine but is used commonly by massage therapists. We use it at the clinic as well.
Call us today to make an appointment and give your lymphatic system some love!
By: Derek Lawrence, ND