By Alex Pownall, RMT

My name is Alex Pownall and I’m pleased to be writing a series of blogs about the lymphatic system.  Today’s blog will focus on what the lymphatic system is, how it works, and why it is important.  We will also begin to discuss lymphatic massage and how it can benefit the lymphatic system and your overall health. 

What Is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, similar to blood vessels, that act in complement to the circulatory system. The lymphatic system helps with fluid return and functions as part of our immune system.

Within blood vessels there is extracellular fluid. This fluid surrounds our cells and capillaries and will leak out into extracellular space throughout our circulatory system. It’s at these points that fluid will get taken in by the lymphatic vessels to run its course through the lymphatic system. It then returns back into the circulatory system and back into the heart where the whole cycle starts over again.

lymphatic massage

The lymphatic system also has a role to play in our immune system. When the lymphatic vessels pick up extracellular fluid to return back into the circulatory system, it also carries along bacteria from any local infection we may have, to the nearest lymph node.

You may have heard of lymph nodes before, especially when you have a cold or flu. The lymph nodes along your neck tend to become swollen and tender. We have many lymph nodes throughout our body, and they become swollen when bacteria from local infection gets caught in these nodes by the immune cells that live within these nodes. Immune cells learn about what kind of infection our body is dealing with in these lymph nodes. They are then able to adapt themselves to go off and fight said infection.

What Is Lymphatic Massage and What Is Its Purpose?


So now that we have talked a little about what the lymphatic system is and what is its role in our body’s health it is time to talk about what lymphatic massage is and how it helps our lymphatic system.

Lymphatic massage, or Manual Lymph Drainage, has been used in practice since 1932. It used to help promote lymph fluid return through specific massage when our lymphatic system is malfunctioning. This can be caused by a number of conditions including:


Recovery from fractures/breaks

Post surgical recovery

Ligament sprain/muscle strain

Manual lymph drainage is a gentle form of massage therapy. It uses light pressure to mobilize the lymphatic system, which lies just under the skin. The massage is performed by the therapist with precise rhythmic movements. We start at the site of the larger lymph nodes and then work down the lymphatic pathways towards the site of lymphatic blockage. The rhythmic motions create an almost vacuum suction like motion down the pathway. This draws the lymph up the pathway and towards the lymph node.


lymphatic massage

So, to sum up, our lymphatic system has a key role to play in our immune system. It uses the lymph nodes to filter out and destroy harmful substances and works alongside our circulatory system by returning fluid that was lost through the capillaries back into the circulatory system. We use manual lymph drainage when the lymphatic system, through a number of different conditions, fails to move the lymph fluid effectively and requires massage to help with the fluid return.

In future blogs I will discuss some of the different conditions that can affect the lymphatic system and how manual lymph drainage can help those conditions. We will also talk about how scar tissue management can also have an affect on our lymph flow. 

Follow Alex Pownall, RMT's blog series on Manual Lymph Drainage

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