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Weekend Post: The Mysterious World of Lymphology

To keep us alive and kicking, our bodies are constantly carrying out millions of different tasks through a network of essential systems.
We all know of the common ones like the Circulatory, Digestive, Respiratory, Skeletal, Muscular, Reproductive?  I could probably carry a relatively vague pub conversation over any one of those systems.  The heart beats, stomach growls, lungs breathe, bones crack, muscles hurt, cock works.  But ask me about the Endocrine system?? The Lymphatic System??? Even the Nervous System is somewhat a mystery to me. Andy posted a great K-Star video last summer on R.I.C.E. – Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate.  A common acronym we’ve all used to treat the occasional soft tissue injury.  Throughout the video, Kelly Starrett (Mobility WOD) and Gary Reinl (MARC Pro) make multiple references to the Lymphatic System.   The only thing I ever knew about the Lymphatic System is my Lymph nodes swelled up under my jaw when I have a sore throat.  It is a system that is rarely discussed and widely overlooked.  However, it is vital to the body’s ability to heal and repair itself.  
So, what does it do? The Lymphatic System is an extensive network of vessels that lie adjacent to the bodies Circulatory System.  We know that the circulatory system circulates blood from the heart through the Arteries, and into the Capillaries (where an exchange of nutrients, waste, oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place) before passing into the veins and back to the heart.  The capillary walls are very thin and allow the fluid portion of the blood to exit the capillaries into the surrounding tissue.  Once the fluid leaves the capillaries, it is called Interstitial Fluid.  Most of the Interstitial Fluid is absorbed back into the capillaries.  However, the other portion enters the open-ended Lymph Vessels as Lymph. There is no heart for the system to pump the lymph around. The fluid relies heavily on the contractions of our skeletal muscles to circulate it back to towards the heart from our extremities.  The larger vessels use peristalsis to propel Lymph to our Lymph Nodes where the fluid can be cleansed of debris and reabsorbed back into the blood stream at our larger Lymph Ducts.  Essentially the Lymphatic System can be described as a giant detoxification plant!
The body has two Lymph Ducts:
  • The Right Lymphatic Duct drains lymph from right side, head, chest, neck, and arm back into the junction between the Right Subclavian Vein and the Right Internal Jugular Vein.
  • The Thoracic Duct collects and drains lymph from left side – head, neck, trunk, arm and lower limbs back into the left Subclavian Vein.
  The Lymphatic System and Muscle Recovery 
During any physical activity, our circulatory and lymphatic systems are working hard to supply our soft tissues with nutrients and move the related waste and deoxygenated blood away from the fatigued areas. This exchange of nourishment and waste helps the muscles recover.
The harder and the longer we work, the harder it is for the lymphatic system to keep up.  Recovery time has a lot of variables that are individual-specific.  Our diets, water intake, genetics, (among many other variables) all play a key role in the efficiency of the Lymphatic System.
Consider a quick cool-down exercise at a low intensity to help assist the lymphatic system after a strenuous workout.  Any kind of exercise will promote lymphatic circulation.  Foam rollers, isolated lacrosse ball roll-outs, or a quick self-rub-down over the affected areas can work wonders and help assist the Lymph flow back to the heart where nutrients can be reintroduced to the cells and flushed back into those fatigued muscles.  Remember – all lymph is meant to flow back towards the heart. So if you’re going to help out, make sure you’re gently pulling and pushing in the right direction :)
There is also a specific massage technique offered by some registered massage therapists called ‘Manual Lymphatic Drainage’ (or MLD).  Apparently, it has been shown to increase Lymph flow in the lymphatic vessels by up to ten times the normal levels!
Definitely something I would suggest you look into if you suffer from any nagging soft tissue injuries, swollen ankles after long-duration flights, or are just looking for some EXTREME MUSCLE RECOVERY!
And if you have a bit of extra coin to spend, the MARC Pro device (discussed in the above mentioned video) looks pretty cool too!
  I’ve learned a lot about the Lymphatic System over the last week and it’s fascinating!  We have Lymph Nodes everywhere!  In fact, your Tonsils are a large collection of Lymph Nodes!
If you want any more information, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to send you some links.
Happy Healing!