The lymphatic system is an underrated system of the body that has quickly become one of my passions! It was not something I knew anything about prior to starting my degree but the more I delve into it the more I feel the need the educate on its importance.
So, what is it? The lymphatic system is a one-way fluid return network that runs alongside the circulatory system.
Its main responsibilities include fluid homeostasis, transport and processing of toxins, waste and large molecules, as well as playing a vital role in inflammation and the immune system. This system is made up of capillaries and vessels that sit both superficially in the skin as well as deeper in the body, the lymphatic trunk and duct sit in our chest returning fluid to the vena cava and finally lymph nodes are scattered in clusters around the body where they house immune cells keeping an eye on the fluid for any potential harm. Most people are aware the lymph nodes in our neck and under the jaw, but did you know there are 300-400 lymph nodes in our abdomen alone supporting gut health.
Dysfunction of our lymphatic system can result in fluid retention leading to chronic oedema (swelling) which in term can lead to structural changes that we can see on the skin!
One sign of inflammation is oedema, its role is to allow room for the immune system to come in and do its job as well as walling off the area to prevent the spread of any potentially harmful pathogens, once clear the swelling and lymphatic system can move on to continue with the healing cascade. This means although it’s not always obvious, the lymphatic system is involved with chronic inflammatory skin conditions!
Unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a heart or central pump to move it around the body;
it relies on extrinsic factors including body movement, skin tension, water intake, gravity and manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). At HOM we utilised ‘Gua sha’ during facials as a form of MLD, both relaxing and effective in the movement and thus processing of fluid. If you’re lucky enough to have a roller or gua sha stone at home, it’s a lovely way to incorporate MLD but if you don’t, I have some easy exercises you can incorporate into your routine;
The first is breathing, as adults we are often breath superficially, not making the most of our lung capacity. Find somewhere to sit or as you’re laying in bed, take 5-10 deep breathes – breathing deeply, inflating your tummy up like it’s a balloon as much as you can before breathing out. Not only activating the lymphatic system in our abdomen (where all those lymph nodes are) it also aids in our parasympathetic nervous system important for rest and digest.
Secondly, when applying skin care/moisturiser on either the face or body move with the lymphatic system. This requires only light pressure as the capillaries sit superficially in our skin and harder pressure will squash them rather than help them. Remembering the lymphatic system drains into the trunk and duct in our chest, always use light sweeping movement towards the chest. For the body; up the legs and up the arms. For the face; sweep towards the ears and then down the neck. Easy!
While there is so much more to learn and discuss about this system, never underestimate the importance of the little things like breathing and a big glass of water. ☺