Lymphatics: The Word You Don’t Know But Use Every Day
Toxins. Edema. Hematomas. Immune response. They all sound serious (and they can be) and they are all managed at least in part by your lymphatic system.
Have you ever seen a diagram of the human body where each subsystem – circulatory, endocrine, reproductive, etc. – were a different color? Your lymphatic system was the green one. No, we don’t know why it’s always green since the lymph it processes is generally clear!
As far as bodily systems go, it’s the Rhode Island of the body (with apologies to the fine people of the Ocean State – all 27 of you). You rarely think about it, may have trouble finding it on a map, and aren’t exactly sure what it produces or why people love to live there. Let’s talk about it for a few minutes so you can be profoundly grateful today that you have one.
The best place to start is actually with your circulatory system – arteries, capillaries, etc. One of the biggest jobs the circulatory system has is to carry nutrients and other necessities out to your cells. When the cells use up all those nutrients, etc. some of the leftovers go back into the circulatory system to be recycled. Some of it, however, is picked up by the lymphatic system to be processed, sort of like waste water.
Like a waste water management system, your lymphatic system puts your cellular excess goes through a multi-step filtration process (that’s where your lymph nodes come in) to get it down to water, which is fed back into your circulatory system. Along the way, the lymph system also plays a key role in stimulating and maintaining your immune system.
What happens if your lymphatic system isn’t up to the job and can’t carry that cellular waste away? What you often get is swelling. And discoloration. And skin irritation if it goes on long enough. That’s part of why it’s a big deal if you have lymph nodes removed during cancer treatment or get lymphedema. You’ve just impaired your cellular waste water system.
The lymphatic system goes everywhere your circulatory system goes, which is everywhere. Which means that you can experience the bad effects of a challenged lymph system anywhere in your body. Fortunately, there’s a manual therapy designed to help the lymphatic system when it gets bogged down. It’s called Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD for short).
MLD uses unbelievably light pressure to help push fluids through the lymphatic system. Why so light? Because the initial lymph vessels that collect that excess fluid are in the outer layers of your skin and are as fine as strands of hair. If a therapist uses too much pressure, they vessels get squished and nothing is accomplished.
That’s one of the challenges to both giving and receiving lymph drainage. It can feel like “nothing” is happening. If you pay attention, however, you will notice a slow but steady reduction in swelling and the tightness that often accompanies swollen tissues.
The challenge to the work for the therapist is not the pressure. It’s having the patience and the knowledge to apply the right pressure in the right places in the right direction to help your lymph fluid move along.
When would you and your lovely lymphatic system need a little push from a qualified therapist?
• Do your legs swell in the summer heat, after time on an airplane, or when you spend too much time on your feet?
• Have you found that with each decade, you are more likely to have fluid retention in your extremities?
• Are you going to have surgery and want to make sure your body is in primo shape for it?
• Did you just have surgery and want to help your body clear out anesthesia and other surgical after-effects?
• Do you have bruising from injury, surgery, or just a good time that needs to move on?
• Are you experiencing inflammation in a joint from injury or arthritis or a chronic condition like fibromyalgia?
For many people, manual lymph drainage is just the thing they didn’t know they needed and are ecstatic to learn is an option. Are you one of those people?