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May 2016 Issue Natural Awakenings Magazine CNY

The Importance of Lymphatic Drainage

When Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) spoke of vessels containing “white blood” or “colorless fluid”, they were describing the anatomy of the lymphatic system. Today we better understand this vital circulatory and regulatory system that flows in only one direction; upward, toward the neck. It comprises a network of tissues and organs that helps rid the body of toxins, recycles nutrients and carries out vital functions essential to the health and life of the body.

The lymphatic system primarily consists of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph fluid. Lymphatic vessels are similar to the (blood) circulatory system’s veins and capillaries. These vessels are in turn connected to lymph nodes, where the lymph is filtered, lymphocytes are developed and antibodies are made. Unlike blood capillaries, which have a continuous basement membrane, lymphatic capillaries have small gap junctions/flaps with attachment filaments within the connective tissue spaces that enable the opening of the vessel to drain the tissue spaces of fluid, cellular waste, cells, pathogens and toxins. The blood capillaries are designed to release small and large molecules such as proteins, nutrients, medicines and toxins out into the tissue spaces, but are not designed mechanically for the removal of most of these same materials. The critical task of removal and drainage is left to the lymphatic system, which shares the tissue spaces with the blood capillaries.

But the primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph fluid, filter it and produce immune responses, including the production of lymphocytes in lymph nodes to fight viruses, bacteria and cancer. Lymph fluid is made up of 96 percent water, which carries the cell debris, proteins and toxins away. This is one reason why hydration is so important. The tonsils, adenoids, intestinal wall, bone marrow and spleen are all part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system has been thought of as primarily the immune system, yet it is also recognized to be the body’s primary drainage system. It is a complex network of vessels and nodes that provide both the drainage and immune responsibilities for the body. The importance of a well-functioning lymphatic drainage system on immune functions and health cannot be overstated.

According to the National Lymphadema Network, when bacteria are recognized in the lymph fluid, the lymph nodes make more infection-fighting white blood cells, which can cause swelling. The swollen nodes can sometimes be felt in the neck, underarms and groin. We are all familiar with “swollen glands”. This enlargement, or lymphadenopathy, is usually caused by infection, inflammation or cancer. Infections that cause lymphadenopathy include bacterial or viral infections. Lymphoma is cancer of the lymph nodes. Lymphoma occurs when mutations cause lymphocytes to grow uncontrollably.

The lymphatic system can become congested and sluggish for many reasons, including lifestyle, diet, dehydration, stress, environmental effects and the buildup of cell turnover and waste, as well as aging. Stress is a major contributor, and has been shown to constrict normal growth and immune functions due to the effects of stress-induced hormones on the body.

There are many things people can do to help affect the lymphatic system to varying degrees. Decreasing stress, gentle stretching, regular movement, adequate water, swimming, gentle yoga and Pilates, and breathing techniques are considered useful. According to lymphology pioneer Dr. Emil Vodder, “Manual lymph drainage (MLD) cleanses the lymph, the swelling in the mucous membranes goes down and consequently the cause of the problems is eradicated.”

Manual lymph drainage is a gentle technique that improves the function of the lymphatic system introduced by Vodder in the 1930s. MLD is becoming widely recognized in the U.S. as a treatment for many pathologies which include post-surgical swelling, sports injuries, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. MLD is also used to promote general relaxation and for cleansing of the skin and superficial fascia.

Lorraine Sanderson, BS, LMT, MLD/C, CLT, is certified in the Vodder Method Manual Lymphatic Drainage and can be reached at 315-760-4118 or Lymphaticusa@gmail.com.