The lymphatic system is an extremely important system in the body and working in conjunction with the circulatory system it helps with the elimination of toxins and other waste materials from the body. The lymphatic system consists of various organs, lymphatic ducts, and lymph nodes, and it transports a clear fluid called lymph. The lymph and the lymphatic system does not receive the same attention as that of the blood circulation, and remains a mysterious entity for many.
The main organs of the lymphatic system are the lymph, lymph vessels, lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland:
Lymph is the filtered form of blood plasma. Plasma is the watery part of the blood that is required to carry the blood cells through the circulatory system. Lymph is the blood plasma that seeps through the veins and carries away cellular waste, white blood cells, fats, proteins, glucose, cancer cells, and dead cells. The lymph then fills the interstitial spaces between muscles, bones and any other empty space in the body, and then is collected in the lymph vessels. The smaller lymph vessels connect to form large lymph vessels. The two main lymph vessels in the body are the right thoracic duct which drains only the upper right part of the body, and the left thoracic duct which drains all other lymph vessels from the rest of the body. However, due to lack of a centralized organ or a pumping mechanism, the lymph vessels have to rely on several muscle contractions and other movements to propel the lymph towards nearby lymph nodes. Therefore, it is important to remember that a sedentary lifestyle can significantly restrict the lymph flow and thereby block its immune and detoxification functions.
There are approximately 600 lymph nodes distributed all over the body. The lymph nodes act as immune filters before lymph proceeds to re-enter into the circulatory system. For example if any pathogen is identified, the white blood cells multiply preparing for its destruction and thereby causing the lymph nodes to swell.
Other important organs in the lymphatic system are bone marrow (a site for manufacturing of B-lymphocytes), the spleen, and the thymus gland. The spleen is small glandular organ located in the upper left corner of the abdomen under the ribcage. It helps in filtering old and dead red blood cells and other foreign pathogens from the bloodstream and supports immunity. The thymus gland is inside the ribcage behind the breastbone. The thymus produces the T-lymphocytes which are important for immediate immune response to an invading pathogen.
A large concentration of lymph tissue known as GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) surrounds the digestive system. It includes the tonsils and adenoids, payer’s patches, appendix and other lymph tissue dispersed around the intestines. GALT tissue absorbs fats and actively separates nutrients from pathogens providing immune support as required.
The main functions of the lymph and the lymphatic system are to produce and supply different types of the white blood cells when required for immune function, removal of excess fluids from body tissues, absorption of fatty acids and subsequent transport of fat to the circulatory system.
A customized form of bodywork, lymphatic massage may help the lymph system do its job better. By understanding the anatomy and function of this delicate system, a massage therapist can assist your body in clearing sluggish tissues of waste and swelling.
Though lymph vessels are found throughout the body, most of them are located just below the skin. These fragile vessels work to pick up fluids between the cell spaces when gentle pressure is applied to them from increased fluid build-up, muscle contractions, or the pressure of a therapist’s hands. By using very light pressures in a rhythmic, circular motion, a massage therapist can stimulate the lymph system to work more efficiently and help it move the lymph fluids back to the heart.
Furthermore, by freeing vessel pathways, lymphatic massage can help retrain the lymph system to work better for more long-term health benefits.
Massage therapists versed in lymphatic drainage therapy, an advanced form of lymphatic massage, can identify the rhythm, direction, and quality of the lymphatic flow and remap drainage pathways.
Who Should Get It?
Lymph massage can benefit just about everyone. If you're feeling tired and low on energy, or if you've been sick and feeling like your body is fighting to get back on track, lymph massage would likely serve you well.
In addition, athletes, surgical patients, fibromyaliga and chronic fatigue sufferers, as well as those wanting a fresh look may want to consider lymphatic massage. Here's why.
After a sports injury or surgery, lymph vessels can become overwhelmed with the demand placed on them. When tissues are swollen, deep tissue techniques may actually cause damage to the lymph vessels and surrounding structures. Lymphatic massage is often the treatment of choice, because it helps the body remove proteins and waste products from the affected area and reduce the swelling. This helps reduce pressure on cells and allows them to reproduce faster to heal the body.
Surgical procedures involving lymph node removal--such as breast cancer surgery--can cause limbs to swell. Severe limb swelling needs the attention of a medical team, but in milder cases, lymphatic massage alone may be enough to prevent or even treat the swelling.
Lymph massage can also be part of a care program for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Because it's so gentle, it is well tolerated by these patients, who are often experiencing sore trigger points throughout the body. And by encouraging lymph flow and removing waste products, this gentle form of bodywork can help restore immune function and improve vitality.
So, if you’re feeling a bit sluggish, experiencing mild to moderate swelling, recovering from a sports injury, or interested in optimizing your lymph system for stronger immunity, ask your massage therapist about lymphatic massage. It can have a powerful impact on your body’s ability to heal.