What is the Lymphatic system?
The human lymphatic system is, in a sense, the body’s second circulatory system. It is made up of lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, lymph (the interstitial fluid drained through the vessels), and lymphocytes (specialized immune cells). The tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus are all part of the lymph system.
Our lymph nodes are soft, small internal structures located in the armpits, groin, and neck, as well as in the centre of the chest and abdomen. The lymph nodes produce immune cells that fight infection while filtering lymph fluid to remove foreign material. When bacteria or other immune threats are present in lymph, lymph nodes increase production of infection-fighting white blood cells, which can cause the nodes to swell.
The lymphatic system has no “pump” of its own to move lymph through the system, as the circulatory system has the heart. Rather, bodily movement and breathing function to move liquid lymph through the vessels and filters of the lymph nodes. For people who get too little exercise and eat too much processed food, the lymphatic system can easily be overtaxed – resulting in a body that is susceptible to infection and disease.
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The Lymphatic system is involved in the removal of waste products, toxins and debris from the body. There are various gentle, non-invasive therapies that employ drainage techniques, for example, the work developed by Ross Emmett among others. It can help decrease symptoms such as swelling in the feet and ankles, abdominal swelling and similar symptoms in the arms thereby easing stiffness and increasing mobility.
The lymph nodes in the neck are very near the surface, as are some veins in the legs. It’s important to use a very light touch when doing lymphatic drainage. This very gentle therapy can have very profound effects on the body. The same is true with yoga – gentle poses and deep breathing techniques can stimulate lymph flow, helping you feel better without the need for a strenuous asana practice.
N.B. If you suffer from long-term lymphedema, or localized swelling related to lymph system blockage, it is advisable to check with your GP first.