The Lymphatic System in our bodies is a network of lymph (limf) vessels and lymph nodes. This network collects fluid, debris, and other things that are in the body’s tissue, outside the bloodstream. Lymph vessels are a lot like the veins that collect and carry blood through the body. But instead of carrying blood, these vessels carry the clear watery fluid called lymph.
Lymph is the fluid that flows out from capillary walls to bathe the cells in the tissues of the body. It carries oxygen and other nutrients to those cells. It also contains white blood cells, which help fight infections. Waste products like carbon dioxide (CO2) can flow out of the cells and into lymph. Lymph fluid would build up and cause swelling if it wasn’t drained in some way. That is the role of the lymph vessels. Lymph vessels draw up the lymph fluid from around the cells to send it towards the chest. Eventually, lymph collects into a large vessel that drains into a blood vessel near the heart.
Lymph vessels route the fluid through nodes that are located throughout the body. Lymph nodes are small structures that work as filters for harmful substances. They contain immune cells that can attack and destroy germs in the lymph fluid to help fight infection. Each lymph node filters fluid and substances picked up by the vessels that lead to it. Lymph fluid from the fingers, for instance, works its way toward the chest, joining fluid from the arm. This fluid may filter through lymph nodes at the elbow, or those under the arm. Fluid from the head, scalp, and face flows down through lymph nodes in the neck. Some lymph nodes are deep inside the body, such as between the lungs or around the bowel, to filter fluid from those areas. The lymph slowly flows in from all around the body, making its way back to the chest. At the end of its journey, the filtered fluid, salts, and proteins are dumped back into the bloodstream.
There are a number of ways to improve the functioning of your lymph system. One of these is called lymphatic massage. Because lymph fluid moves slowly without aid of its own pump, inactivity can seriously restrict its flow. Muscular contraction through exercise and deep breathing is the primary means by which our lymph circulates, but lymphatic massage and drainage provide another helpful option.
In Europe, patients often receive a special massage called lymph therapy or lymph drainage before undergoing surgery. This method of treatment was popularized in the US by the Danish doctor, Dr. Emil Vodder, as an effective treatment for lymphedema. Practitioners believe that it significantly improves healing by readying the system for recovery. For more information, visit Dr. Vodder’s educational website.
On an everyday basis, regular lymph massage (particularly around the abdomen, axillary nodes, and breast) can be great preventive health maintenance. There are many ways to practice lymph massage, and I recommend that you visit a certified massage therapist to learn more.
In addition, we recommend the following steps to ensure that your lymph remains clear and unimpeded. Whether you have symptoms or not, every woman will benefit from these techniques.
I hope this article has served to reveal the hidden beauty of your lymphatic system, and inspires you to give more time to its care. Remember that support for your body is all-inclusive, not fragmented into specialized body parts as so many doctors would have us believe. Taking the time to honor and support your lesser-known systems will have a far-reaching, life enhancing effect. So focus on purifying and loosening the tides within and let your river run!
by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Women To Women