The Lymphatic System:
Water of Life
By now we all realize the importance of water and filling ourselves with high-quality water. Yet many know little of why we feel better with good hydration. The health care and general communities share a lack of understanding of our system of water…the Lymphatic System.
What happens to the water of our bodies? How the system works explains a great deal when it is not working optimally. The blood supply works its way into the small vessels that become the capillaries. From the capillaries the blood transfers vital nutrients into the areas around the cells, the interstitial space. A lot happens in this space, as the constituents of the blood are part of an amazing dance of metabolism. In this interstitial space are also left the byproducts of metabolism, bacteria, viruses, or toxins that have made their way to this point. A large amount of the fluid in this space is reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. Much of the byproducts are left behind to be processed by the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a series of channels, similar to the blood channels of arteries and veins. Yet the lymphatic system lacks an active pumping action, so it is very dependent on muscle contractions and pressures in the system to help keep it moving in the right the direction. This is towards the heart where it is dumped back into the blood supply in an area by the heart. However, not before our immune system gets a crack at the byproducts, bacteria, viruses and toxins. This is the job of the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes act as filters and as hubs for the immune system concentrating its endeavors to keep our system clean and healthy. This is why our lymph nodes swell when we are ill. The nodes become engorged with the virus or bacteria and the immune system dumps large amounts of immune cells to fight the attack.
When our system has toxins and many constituents to filter out, the lymph nodes become congested or sluggish. It becomes more difficult for our lymphatic system to get the fluid of the system (the lymph) back to the heart. The lymph nodes can become sore, tender to the touch, or the area may become swollen. This is often seen with swelling in the legs. In cases where lymph nodes are removed for medical reasons, the highway of the lymph has been forever changed and the system must find another way to get the lymph back to the heart/bloodstream.
Fortunately there are things we can do to improve our lymphatic flow to allow our immune system to optimize its function.
- Drink plenty of water. The “8 glasses a day” is just a small start; many health care practitioners are now recommending 50% of your body weight in ounces.
- Exercise. “Ankle pumps” are a great way to activate the muscles of the calves to help the lymph out of the feet and ankles. This is simply pumping your ankle up and down, similar to the motion of stepping on and off the gas pedal of your car. “Rebounding” has become quite popular. This is jumping on a small trampoline. Walking is an excellent and simple form of exercise. Check with your doctor or physical therapist prior to starting a rebounding or walking program.
- Speak with your dietitian or naturopath about appropriate antioxidants to help your system combat toxins/”oxidants”.
- Avoid medications that “dry you out” such as allergy medications or decongestants.
- Try manual therapy or massage techniques that are designed to help the lymphatic system. Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), Lyphatic Drainage Technique (LDT) or Lymphatic Massage are all very effective interventions and extremely relaxing to receive.
The heat of the summer months causes blood flow changes that require our lymphatic system to work even harder. Try these simple techniques to keep down those swollen feet and ankles so that you can enjoy these “dog days of summer”.
Vanessa Cayle, MSPT is a physical therapist and owner/director of the CranioSacral Institute of MI. She is an advanced trained practitioner and certified presenter on craniosacral therapy. Please visit her website at www.csiofmi.com