The lymphatic system is probably one of the least talked about systems in the body. That’s probably because there are very few conditions that doctors directly attribute to being caused by a problem with the lymphatic system. Those conditions would be things like Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and lymphedema, which aren’t the most common or concerning conditions for most. Despite it being behind the scenes and mostly off the radar, it’s of major importance in your short- and long-term health. Let’s first talk about what the lymphatic system does and you’ll soon see why it’s so important. I’ll finish with some easy tips on how you can help your lymphatic system function optimally.
The lymphatic system is essentially made up of a network of vessels, nodes, and ducts. It’s part of the circulatory system. But instead of transporting nutrients to the cells, like the blood vessels do, it transports some nutrients (especially fats), waste products, immune cells and “recyclable” constituents away from cells. To help you understand better, here’s an analogy. Water comes into your house through pipes, just as blood flows through arteries into your cells. You use that water for everyday things like drinking, cleaning, flushing the toilet, etc., just as your cells use the (hopefully) nutrient-rich blood to sustain and nurture themselves. And just as you need to flush the toilet and let water go down the drain in your home, your cells need to purge the waste products they’ve accumulated through the “human drainage system” or lymphatic system. The only difference is that your body does recycle some of the reusable components in the lymph. If this drainage system doesn’t flow properly your cells will be left bathing in the waste products and toxins that they need to eliminate. You can only imagine how great you’d feel (and look) if these toxins weren’t shuttled away, in the form of “lymph” by this system.
Now that you can better appreciate the function of the lymphatic system, here are some simple steps to take to ensure optimal LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE:
1) STAY HYDRATED We need to drink enough water throughout the day to keep the lymph flowing like the consistency of water instead being of thick and too viscous like molasses. Read more about my recommendations for water intake by clicking here.
2) GET ACTIVE The lymphatic fluid flows upward or superior in the body. And it doesn’t have a set of valves to help keep the lymph moving, the way our veins do. Therefore, muscle contraction and joint movement is the most effective way to keep the lymph draining. So start moving somehow, whether it’s walking or exercising or rebounding on a trampoline.
3) STRENGTHEN YOUR PELVIC FLOOR AND DIAPHRAGM As mentioned above, muscle contraction and movement are key. And two key areas are the pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm. All the lymph in your system will eventually get drained into the blood stream via ducts that are located under your pectoralis (or chest) muscles. In order to get lymph from the lower extremities into these ducts, the pelvic floor muscles must be strong and work properly. This will get the lymph to drain out of the legs and above the pelvis. Then, you need to have a properly functioning diaphragm to give it a further push into the ducts for final removal from the system. So something as simple as deep breathing can help the lymph flow. But if you’re exercising fairly rigorously, you may not have to bother with extra deep breathing exercises. Read more about the diaphragm and it’s connection to low back pain by clicking here. You can also read about the importance of the diaphragm in reflux, GERD, and heartburn symptoms by clicking here.
4) STRETCH YOUR PECTORALIS MUSCLES The two ducts that eventually dump the lymph back into the bloodstream (for filtering and recycling) are located under both pectoralis (or chest) muscles. If these muscles are too tight they can essentially seal off the entrance into these ducts and prevent the proper removal of lymph from the system. This can lead to any number of conditions or symptoms including pain, fatigue, sinus congestion, waking up feeling unrested, a cold or flu, and more.
Click here for a video I found on YouTube that demonstrates the pec stretch nicely.
Dr. Rob D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Diplomate and Board-Certified Teacher of the International Board of Applied Kinesiology