Lymphatic System Basics in simplest terms, the lymphatic system is a network of vessels, nodes and organs that work as part of the immune system to carry lymph fluid that is rich in infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body, while also helping rid the body of waste and excess fluid. In addition to the nodes and vessels, the tonsils, thymus and spleen are all part of the lymphatic system.
Via the circulatory system, blood delivers oxygen, nutrients and hormones to cells and also collects waste. This exchange takes place in the interstitial fluid surrounding the cells. About 90 percent of this interstitial fluid returns to the circulatory system as venous blood. That last 10 percent is lymph fluid, which travels through the body via lymph vessels, passing through lymph nodes, where excess fluid and waste products are filtered out. Here, too, lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells) kill pathogens that might be present.
Lymph can only move in one direction—upward, toward the neck, where it reenters the circulatory system via the subclavian veins. And unlike blood in the circulatory system, which relies on the heart pumping, lymph fluid depends on muscle contractions in the surrounding skeletal muscles to move through the lymphatic vessels.
The average person has approximately 600 to 700 lymph nodes.
MLD is generally discussed as a massage technique that works to encourage the natural movement of lymph fluid. “It is a systemic, rhythmic method of purposefully stretching the skin to produce an increase in the volume of flow of the lymph fluid through the filtering system of the body,” Thompson explains.
For many, the main benefits of MLD are going to be helping reduce edemas and inflammation and prevent lymphedema—the latter being of particular importance as there currently is no cure for lymphedema.
"As someone who has never experienced any major injury or illness, I cannot relate to the discomfort of extreme swelling. However, after standing for long periods of time and working with my arms and hands out in front of me, I have experienced fatigued and sometimes heavy or tight extremities. In September of 2019, I completed the Lymphatic Drainage Technique course at Cumberland Institute of Holistic Therapies and learned not only how to better care for my clients dealing with Edema and levels 0 & 1 of Lymphedema, I also learned better self-care. Especially, for those days where I feel that tight, uncomfortable heaviness in my limbs. I am excited to make use of this new tool and better serve you." - Rachael Decosta, LMT