Lymphatic System

Between nearly all of the body’s cells, there is interstitial fluid that bathes the cells with substances vital for its life.  This is a clear colorless liquid carrying microscopic particles such as white blood cells, food, protein and nutrients necessary for the cell’s health.  The interstitial fluids drain into the lymph system then drains into the blood vascular venous system.   The lymphatic system is paramount to optimal health. 

Nearly all tissues of the body depend on lymphatic drainage.  Contained within the lymph fluid is protein that has escaped from the blood vessels, bacteria, viruses and other particulate matter.  Protein collected in the lymph must be cleared from the interstitial spaces and returned to the blood; without this action death would occur within 24 hours.  The only mechanism for protein to return to the bloodstream is by way of lymphatic drainage. 

Another very important function of the lymphatic system is trapping and disposing of foreign matter, such as bacteria and viruses.  These are trapped in filters called lymph nodes located along the lymphatic vessels.  The lymph nodes produce a type of white blood cell that engulfs and destroys these body invaders.  The lymph nodes are concentrated in areas such as the neck, shoulders axilla, elbow, groin, behind the knee and in the abdomen. Most people have had swollen glands around the neck with a case of tonsillitis or some other upper respiratory infection.  These are the lymph nodes actively helping to control the infection. 

If one should get a cut in the arm, bacteria may enter the wound.  As bacteria collect in lymph, they are moved to the axillary lymph nodes, which trap the foreign matter and eliminate it from the body.   This activity can be observed by the swollen lymph nodes in the shoulder axilla as the infection is being brought under control.

The lymphatic system also collects digestive fat from the small intestine and transports it to the bloodstream.  This is also the main route by which cholesterol, the principal steroid found in tissues, makes its way into the blood.  A proper amount of both fat and cholesterol is necessary for optimal health. Some hormones, many of which are very large molecules, are carried to the blood by way of the lymphatic system.

The lymph system begins its collection in the periphery of the body.  The lymph vessels of the lower extremity converge toward the abdominal cisterna chyli.  Here the lymph empties into the largest vessel, the thoracic duct, which ultimately drains into the venous system.  This duct drains all of the body except the right side of the head, neck, thorax and right upper limb.  These areas are drained by the other main tube, the right lymphatic duct.

The blood vascular and the lymphatic systems have some similarities.  They are both closed systems that carry fluid throughout the body; however, the methods of transporting the fluid differ considerably.  The blood vascular system has a pump, the heart that propels blood through its system.  The lymphatic system has no pump.  The lymph vessels have valves that permit lymph to move in only one direction.  Although the larger lymphatic vessel walls have muscle fibers that contract, the major propelling factor is intermittent compression on the lymph vessel wall by surrounding tissue.  When the large muscles or some other tissue puts pressure on the vessel, it squeezes the lymph along its way to drain into the venous system.  Compared to the blood vascular system, the pressure moving lymph through the vessels is very low, causing the vessel to collapse easily.  It is important to squeeze the fluid along the one-way system to ultimately drain into the venous system.  Frequent intermittent pressure, such as that provided by contraction of the muscles during exercise, general movement and massage therapy helps maintain effective lymph drainage.  Large portions of the body are affected if lymphatic flow is sluggish.

The most common cause of persistent pressure on the lymph vessels is muscular imbalance and postural distortion in the upper chest and neck region.  This area is particularly vulnerable because the thoracic and right lymphatic ducts traverse restrictive areas and make sharp tortuous turns.  Correction depends upon regaining balance.  Evidence of chronic strain and tension in the muscles is often observed by the tenderness they exhibit when treated.

Applied kinesiology muscle testing can help identify the weak muscles as well as the contracted ones.

The proper movement of the rib cage in respiration along with diaphragm contraction is important in the function of lymphatic drainage.

Many people fail to drink enough water to keep the lymphatics draining. The body uses plain drinking water to cleanse itself, whereas the body processes coffee, tea, fruit juices or sodas as stimulants or foods.   The proper amount of water varies considerably with types of activity and environmental conditions.  Obviously, when it is hot and one perspires heavily, more water is needed.

It is well known that there are neurologically controlled muscle fibers in the large lymph vessels.  Contraction of the vessels helps propel lymph drainage into the venous system.  Neurologic reflex points affect lymphatic drainage.  Stimulation of these reflexes dramatically strengthens lymphatic drainage that might affect the associated muscles, organs or glands.

There are numerous conditions that clue the doctor trained in applied kinesiology, to examine for poor lymphatic drainage.  Infection of any type is a primary indication.  Among these are upper respiratory infections, such as sinusitis, ear (Eustachian tube) infections, nose and throat problems, common colds and tonsillitis, and lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.  Structural problems are also frequently involved with poor lymphatic drainage, such as tennis elbow, repeated strained or sprained ankles, and low backache.  Patients often have a feeling of being rundown or have poor circulation, indicated by cold hands or feet or numbness and/or tingling in the extremities.  Even frequency of nighttime urination or grinding of the teeth during sleep can be associated with poor lymphatic drainage. 

Swelling in the ankles, feet and hands definitely gives indication to evaluate the lymphatic system.  This is particularly important since excessive fluid concentrations are not clinically observable until the levels reach 30% above normal; consequently, there may be no outward evidence of poor lymphatic drainage.

Any of these symptoms or signs indicate that a thorough evaluation of lymphatic drainage should be made.  It may be necessary for your doctor to locate and stimulate neurolymphatic reflex points to improve local areas.  There may be postural distortion or muscular imbalances blocking major lymph vessels.  In addition to correcting these neurologic and structural factors, it might be necessary to take certain nutritional supplements to help correct poor drainage.  You can help optimize lymphatic drainage by maintaining a good level of physical activity and drinking sufficient water to maintain proper hydration.