By warding off disease and healing injury, the lymphatic system supports every other system in the body. Despite the crucial role it plays, Western medical practitioners typically only evaluate the lymphatic system when there is a specific lymph problem, such as infection or congestion causing swelling or cancer affecting lymph tissue. Many would be surprised to learn that the body contains twice as much lymph fluid as blood. This precious fluid continuously bathes each cell, draining away debris in a circulatory system powered only by muscle contractions, breathing and movement. Because its stagnation can clog the entire system and allow toxins, bacteria and cellular waste to congregate, lymphatic fluid must be in motion.
Basic Lymph Anatomy
Through a network of vessels, lymph attends to nearly every cell in the body. Strung along lymph vessels like pearls knotted on a string, lymph nodes serve as a series of cleaning filters, working to rid the body of harmful bacteria and debris. In addition to the lymph nodes and vessels, there are various other components comprising the fascinating lymphatic system.
One of the lymph system’s crucial functions is generating and storing infection-fighting white blood cells. In addition to lymph nodes, principal lymph organs include the bone marrow (where B-lymphocytes are made), the spleen, tonsils and the thymus gland (where T-lymphocytes are made). A large concentration of lymph tissue also surrounds the intestines. This tissue absorbs fats and actively separates nutrients from pathogens, providing defense whenever needed.
Moving the Lymph
With its elaborate network of vessels and nodes, the lymph system circulates lymph throughout the entire body without a central operating pump. Dependent upon muscle contractions and manual manipulation, lymph manages to isolate and eliminate infection and cellular waste. Without a motor driving its circulation, deep breathing, exercise and massage are great ways to encourage lymph’s flow and to maintain the health of this essential system.
Inactivity can significantly restrict lymph’s flow. The movement created by combining deep breathing with stretching, such as yoga, has been shown to be an effective lymph circulation enhancement practice. Additionally, many experts claim that jumping on a trampoline is the perfect exercise for restoration and maintenance of the lymphatic system.
Massage therapists consider an increase in circulation to be the primary effect their work has on the body. While this benefit is largely attributed to circulation of the blood, many of bodywork’s successes also stem from its effect on the circulation of lymphatic fluid.
While all forms of massage will have some sort of effect on the lymph system, lymphatic drainage massage has the greatest impact. Although lymphatic drainage massage has little effect on blood circulation, its light pressure can increase lymph flow by up to ten times its normal rate. This style of massage is especially therapeutic for anyone with edema, swollen glands, toxic sludge build-up throughout the body, or chronic low immunity.
If considering a client with a recent or past history of cancer in the lymph system, a practitioner must obtain physician permission prior to beginning a session. Once malignancy is in the lymph system, every effort needs to be made to prevent its spread.
In addition to regular exercise and lymphatic drainage massage, some additional suggestions for maintaining lymphatic health include:
- Drink six to eight glasses of purified or filtered water per day. Staying hydrated helps maintain proper lymph fluid levels.
- Practice deep breathing. Breathing deeply from the diaphragm and through the nose is one of the best ways to move lymph fluid throughout the body.
- Support your body’s natural detoxification through perspiration. A weekly sauna or steam bath can facilitate the healthy removal of waste through the skin’s pores, lessening the load on the lymph system.
- Avoid restrictive clothing that presses on lymph nodes. Bras with under wires or garments that are too tight can impede lymph flow.
A properly functioning lymphatic system is crucial to all aspects of our health. A very complex network, congestion of the lymphatic system is considered by many to be at the heart of most diseases. As medical researchers focus more on the lymph system’s universal role, it will become increasingly clear that measures to prevent lymph stagnation result in people living healthier, longer lives. In addition to the suggestions listed above, learning to administer lymphatic drainage massage can benefit every one of your clients. By draining, facilitating and maintaining lymph flow, bodyworkers can learn to be an integral part of a disease prevention and wellness program.
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