The Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic System

Lymphatic System
Lymph nodes can be found are all around the body, including the armpit (axilla), groin, abdomen, chest and neck.

To understand what lymphoedema is and how it is treated, it is important to first understand how the lymphatic system works. Lymphatics form part of your immune system, helping cope with infection by cleansing/detoxifying your body's tissues.

Unlike the circulatory system, where the heart pumps blood around the body, lymph vessels rely upon hundreds of tiny muscular units called lymphangions contracting throughout the lymph vessels to propel the flow of lymph fluid. This enables the transport of numerous substances (i.e., proteins, toxins, hormones, fatty acids, immune cells) to the lymph nodes, which process them.

There are 400-700 nodes in the human body. Almost one half is located in the abdomen alone. Many nodes also are located in the area of the neck. The main groups of nodes can be found in the major articulation folds of the body i.e.: armpits and groin, but excluding the wrists. Lymph nodes have various specific functions:


 Function of the lymphatic system:

  •  removal of interstitial fluid from tissues.
  • absorbtion and transport of fatty acids and fats as chyle to the circulatory system
  • transport of antigen presenting cells (APCs) ie dendritic cells, to the lymph nodes where an immune response is stimulated.
  • filter and purifying the lymph circulation
  • capture and destroy body toxins
  • concentrate lymph reabsorbtion of about 40% of the liquids presented in the lymph
  • production of lymphocytes (immune cells). (The production of lymphocytes is increased when the flow of lymph is increased through the nodes. The use of manual techniques such as Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) increases the production of lymphocytes).

Diseases and other problems of the lymphatic system can cause swelling and other symptoms. Problems with the system can impair the body's ability to fight infections.

Having passed through these nodes, lymph drains into the venous system and is eventually removed from the body as urine via the kidneys. If any part of the lymph system gets damaged due to surgery, trauma, burns, infections, fatigue, or stress lymph circulation often stagnates, fluids, proteins, cells and toxins accumulate, and cellular functioning is significantly compromised.

This means the vessels are not able to adequately drain lymph and when this occurs the amount of fluid in an area becomes greater than the capacity of the lymphatic system to drain/transport away and lymphoedema occurs.