Lymphatic System....What is it?

Lymphatic System our “Transportation Highway”

One of the most important systems of the body is a little known circulatory system called the lymphatic system. It is the body’s primary waste elimination system.  As such it contains over 600 “collection sites” called the lymph nodes and has a network of collecting vessels more extensive than the venous system.


Your lymphatic system can be compared to a freeway.  When congested, nothing moves.  The same thing can happen in your body.  Your lymphatic system affects every organ and cell in your body.


When the lymph fails to function properly and the collecting terminals become blocked, it’s like a bottleneck. The lymph starts backing up in the system creating a toxic oxygen-deprived environment conducive to degeneration and disorder.   The clear lymph fluid becomes sluggish or even stagnant, changing from a condition like water to milk to yogurt to cottage cheese. Toxic lymph can be stored for a long time in the system.  This is not a healthy condition. Thickened, gel-like stagnant lymph overloaded with toxic waste is the ideal environment for the onset of numerous illnesses, including cancer.

Moving stagnant lymph flow is a key to rejuvenation.  Once you clear up the lymph flow, which is an essential component of the immune system, you can enhance the body’s natural healing ability to clear up illness.

A healthy lymphatic system can absorb and discharge unwanted body fat, carry away excess body fluids and toxic wastes, and aid in healing challenges associated with the muscular, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and nervous systems.  Again, your lymphatic system affects every organ and cell in you body.

It is the “transportation highway” of our immune system.

Cause and Effects of Lymphatic Problems

Factors that can contribute to lymphatics system blockages include: chronic constipation, physical and emotional life stresses, environmental toxins, heavy metals and chemicals, inflammation, infections, injuries and surgery (scar tissue and adhesions), bruises and traumas, food allergies, poor diets, tight clothing, lack of exercise, hormonal imbalances, structural misalignment, the normal aging processes, genetic predisposition.  Even unexpressed emotions such as anger, fear, or resentment.


Other factors can also hamper the natural cleansing process.   Artificial and restrictive clothing (such as polyester blouses and tight bras and jeans), air-conditioning and even antiperspirant deodorants prevent excretion and natural cleansing of toxins.  Your skin is the largest eliminative organ and about one third of your system’s toxins are excreted through it, which comes to about a pound a day.  Blocking this flow of natural design with antiperspirants works against both the lymphatic and immune systems.

There are many conditions that sluggish lymph circulation can lead to that may be improved by lymphatic treatment.  These include but are not limited to: colds, respiratory infections, emphysema, sinus headaches, sinus problems, allergies, low immunity (infections), female and fibrocystic breast conditions, menstrual cramps, cellulite, water retention and obesity, poor healing of injuries, prostate congestion, inflammation and chronic pain, muscle and tissue tension, arthritis, structural misalignment in the neck and shoulders, intestinal blockages, parasites, cancers, digestive disorders, ulcers, wrinkles, acne, and chronic toxicity leading to immune and fatigue syndromes, mental confusion and emotional disorders.  Most physical and emotional challenges can be aggravated by blockage of the lymph flow.

It becomes evident how poor lymphatic drainage can contribute to a wide range of dysfunction and lack of vitality.  What can be done to remedy the situation?

Understanding the Lymphatic System

Oxygenated blood passes from the heart through large arteries to increasingly smaller arterioles to, finally, the microscopic capillaries that weave between the various cells of our body.  It is in this space, between the cells and the capillaries, that nutrients are delivered to our cells and waste removed from our cells by a process of continual back and forth movement (or diffusion) of fluids between the interstitial fluid (fluid between cells) and intravascular fluids (fluid in the veins of either the blood or lymph systems). Proteins in this interstitial fluid help “pull” oxygen, sugars, and various nutrients out through the walls of the blood capillaries and “deliver” them into your cells.  Then acting as your personal garbage pick up system it removes waste from the cells (such as carbon dioxide, lactic acid, et cetera) sending them into the bloodstream to be disposed of through the elimination channels of the body - liver, kidneys, bowel, skin and lungs.

As efficient as this system is, there is a certain amount of blood plasma lost in the process.  Along with the plasma, there are also various large particles-such as proteins, dead cells, viruses, bacteria, inorganic compounds, water, cholesterol. fats, waste products, et cetera-that are too large to be re-absorbed into the blood stream, and this is where your lymph system plays a vital role.

Lymph vessels known as  Lymph Capillaries ,which are are blind-ended (closed ended) tubes, begin in the areas where the above-mentioned exchanges are taking place. As the pressure builds up in the interstitial space (the area between your cells and the capillaries), the surrounding tissue is slightly stretched, and the walls of the initial lymph vessels aka lymph capillaries begin to form openings. After entering these openings the interstitial fluid changes names and becomes known as lymph fluid.  This lymph fluid and other materials now begin to move along the capillaries (which have one-way flap-like valves to stop the back flow of the fluid)


These capillaries merge together and join to form larger lymph vessels, gradually getting bigger and bigger...these resemble and follow the path of veins. The lymph flows upward through the body up to the chest (at the rate of 3 quarts per 24 hours) where it drains into the bloodstream through two large ducts aka collecting vessels:


The thoracic duct aka left lymphatic duct - largest of two and empties into subclavian vein. This duct drains all but upper right half of body.

The right lymphatic duct - drains into the internal jugular vein.  Drains upper right half of body.

Lymph also flows down from the head and neck into these drainage sites.  Approximately two to three liters of lymph is filtered through the lymphatic system per day.


Along the path of the lymph vessels, lymph fluid passes through specialized glands called lymph nodes. Lymph nodes can be thought of in many different ways.  One way is like the illustration of a highway clover leaf.  Lymphatic fluid can come and go from the node in any direction, like an intersection of roads. They are found in clusters, some are as small as the head of a pin, while others are as large as an olive.  On the average, there are anywhere from 400  to 700 lymph nodes in the body.  About half are located deeper in the abdominal area, but large concentrations are also found in the thorax, behind knee, groin, neck and armpits. The lymph system becomes particularly active during times of illness (such as the flu), when the nodes (particularly at the neck) visibly swell with collected waste products.  I’m sure you’ve felt one or more in your neck when they become enlarged during a cold or sore throat. Lymph nodes could be compared to very sophisticated filters.  A more appropriate description might be “mini chemical detoxification plants.”  They purify and filter the lymph and remove foreign substances before the lymph is eventually returned as blood plasma. They also produce and house various types of lymphocytes (white blood cells) and macrophages that destroy damaged cells, bacteria, and viruses.  While lymph nodes are a vital part of your immune system they also tend to reabsorb about 40 percent of the liquids from the lymph fluid-which thickens the lymph and slows its flow.  This is one reason why drinking water is crucial for the continued proper functioning of the lymphatic system.


As a circulatory system, optimal flow must be maintained within the Lymphatic system.  Unlike the blood, whose circulation is driven by the pumping of the heart, the lymph does not have its own pump.  It is propelled by three natural means: muscle contraction, the nerves which create subtle pulsations, and the fluid pressure within the system. These functions are critical to vibrant health!


When the lymph fails to function properly, it becomes sluggish or even stagnant.  The clear lymph fluid becomes cloudy and thick, changing from a condition like water to milk to yogurt to cottage cheese. When this happens fluid can concentrate in specific areas (edema), or impaired function along the entire lymph system can result (congestion).  When this state of congestion is long lasting, blockages can form and cause a backup in the flow of lymphatic fluid.  Consequently, toxic cellular waste cannot effectively be released from the body as a whole or from specific areas such as injury sites. Thus, the immune system may not function at its optimum. Thickened, gel-like stagnant lymph overloaded with toxic waste is the ideal environment for the onset of numerous illnesses, including cancer.

Other consequences of congestion are weight gain, facial edema, dark circles, dry, wrinkled or sallow looking skin, spider veins, and cellulite.

Researchers are just beginning to understand and demonstrate that your ability to remain healthy and disease-free is in large part directly related to how efficient your body is at circulating lymphatic fluid and dealing with the toxins and other materials it contains.

What is Retro Flow

The conventional theory of the lymphatic system is the lymph flows in only one direction.  However, this theory has been proven obsolete.  Lymphatic fluid flows where it is needed.  Lymphatic decongestive therapy can enhance this flow.  Opposite to the direction of lymph flow in conventional theory is the theory of retrograde flow.

We know that the lymphatic fluid transfers up to 50% of digested proteins to the cells as well as supplying the necessary building blocks to the immune system.  The lymphatic system is also very important in the removal of cellular wastes as well as the removal of dying, deformed and mutated cells.


Conventional theory considers the lymphatic system to be a closed system which dumps the fluid back into the blood stream.  It is then filtered by the kidneys and the liver.  This system functions smoothly in a healthy person, however when the body becomes ill or is under stress it can become overworked and eventually blocked.


When the system becomes blocked toxins build up to dangerous levels.  These are the toxins that we do not want to flow in the conventional direction.  At this point we want to employ a retrograde flow to cause the system to dump these toxins into the descending colon to be discharged from the body in the next bowel movement.  This retro-flow is a much healthier way to rid the body of excess wastes, toxins and foreign organic and inorganic materials.

The Carter Technique of Manual Lymphatic Drainage utilizes this retrograde flow as a form of therapy.

Dr. Cory Carter discovered that the surface and epifascial lymph pathways are those most addressed with manual therapy.  But the deeper nodes and structures of the body, which appear to govern the drainage of the whole system, are not easily reached with these methods.  In addition, the textbooks which map lymph drainage do not agree as to the exact directions and locations of flow, or which lymph structures govern the system.  Dr. Carter has concluded that the complexity of the lymphatic system coupled with a lack of serious exploration by the medical community gives us the opportunity to add to this body of knowledge. The lymphatic system is an arena that is still ripe for discovery.