Have you ever wondered how some people are able to look so good when they mature? Or have you ever wanted to retain some youthful qualities in your skin? These questions all have one common factor: the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system sits shallow beneath the skin and transports a variety of compounds throughout the body. This system is prone to swelling and inflammation since it does not move on its own, and requires outside forces to spur movement.
Regularly assisting your lymphatic system with drainage will result in your contours being more defined over time. This will reduce the likelihood that your skin will become dull, puffy, or lacking overall definition. The word contours refers to any part of your body that has a curve to it, such as your cheekbones, clavicle, orbital bone (eye sockets), and waist. Let me tell you more about how and why the lymphatic system is so important.
What Is a Lymph Node and Why Does It Matter?
The lymphatic system is one of the most complex and cunningly arranged human
systems. The lymphatic system is designed to remove poisons and toxins from the body, especially bacterial and fungal-parasitic toxins of protozoa (Butakova).
Image 1.1 The structure of lymphatic capillaries inside of tissues.
|"As the blood circulates around the body, fluid leaks out from the blood vessels into the body tissues. This fluid carries food to the cells and bathes the body tissues to form tissue fluid. The fluid then collects waste products, bacteria, and damaged cells. It also collects any cancer cells if these are present. This fluid then drains into the lymph vessels." - Cancer Research UK
The human immune system practically depends on this system, and immunity is what gives us long life! The lymphatic system detoxifies from extremities in towards the heart, never in reverse order (from the fingertips and to the thoracic/chest lymphatic duct).
The lymphatic ducts use a very important valve structure that prevents lymphatic fluids from returning once expelled. When the lymph rises, the valve let the fluids pass, but immediately slams shut. This one way direction prevents osmosis from occurring, and thus directs the flow of toxins to outside the body.
The lymphatic system is a part of our immune and circulatory system. A person doesn't have a separate heart for lymphatic system, so how is the moving lymph flow created? The lymphatic vessels are in the depths of the muscle fibers. When muscles contract, the lymph fluid is pushed, and valves in lymph vessels do not pass it back.
It is very important during massage to follow the direction of lymphatic movements so as not to squeeze the valvular apparatus of the lymphatic vessels shut. The lymphatic system sits shallow beneath our skin, so it does not take much pressure to stimulate it. Gentle vibrations from a Zoe Bliss are enough to generate movement. Deeper pressure results in massaging muscles which squeezes the lymph system shut thus resulting in no movement.
A lymph node is like an airport customs area. It screens the lymph fluid passing through for damaged cells, cancer cells, and bad bacteria in order to cleanse the fluid. These nodes hold onto good bacteria to use when cleansing is needed. The lymph fluid carries a variety of byproducts through the body, and as a result picks up various toxins and trash. The lymph nodes are the main stations in which these toxins are removed.
How Are Lymph Nodes Connected?
There are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout the body. Each lymph node filters
the fluid and substances picked up by the vessels that lead to it. Let’s return to the analogy that lymph nodes are a customs screening center. Each node/center houses living macrophages, T- lymphocytes, and B-lymphocytes. These occupants filter liquid, destroy bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and protozoa.
As mentioned earlier, the lymphatic system drains from the extremities inward. Lymph fluid from the fingers, for instance, works its way toward the chest, joining fluid from the arm. This liquid may filter through lymph nodes at the elbow, or those under the arm, while fluid from the head, scalp, and face flows down through lymph nodes in the neck. Some lymph nodes are deep inside the body, such as between the lungs or around the bowel, to filter fluid in those areas.
Image 1.2. Layout of lymph system, as well as structure of lymph node.
While there are numerous lymph nodes, there are even more lymphatic veins that span our bodies. Think of the ratio as ten vein inputs to one node output. This system direction and ratio is also called the work of the lymphatic system.
The miracle of the lymphatic system is that it is the only system (except for the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract) that emits waste through the mucus membrane. This is a unique phenomenon, because normally we can't ‘spit’ anything out through the skin. If the lymphatic system is compromised (such as with lymph scar tissue, removal of nodes, etc), it will release accumulated toxins through the skin.
Lymph Node Types and Locations
Lymph nodes are clustered throughout the body in key locations:
- Upper abdomen
- Mediastinum (the area between the lungs that contains all the principal organs of the chest)
Areas with clusters of lymph nodes, such as in the neck, should be paid special attention to. Daily care to facilitate the removal of built up fluid in these areas will help your body feel better overall. For example, many doctors have expressed uncertainty in how to treat groin pain for women because of the complexity in the pelvis. I have found that many confusing, unidentifiable, or dull pain can be addressed with lymphatic draining.
Axillary lymph nodes are the lymph nodes located in the armpit (axilla). There are usually between 10 and 40 lymph nodes in the axilla (MacMillian Cancer Support). The axillary lymph nodes are important in the diagnosis of breast cancer. When cancer cells are shed from a breast tumor, they first travel to the axillary nodes. Because cancer cells tend to spread through lymph nodes in a specific pattern, doctors can often tell how advanced cancer is (American Cancer Society). I suggest sticking to deodorant as opposed to antiperspirant in order to keep your armpits healthy.
Cervical lymph are nodes found in the neck. They are further broken down by their location:
- Anterior cervical lymph nodes are those nearest the front of the neck. These typically swell when you have a cold or strep throat.
- Posterior cervical lymph nodes are located behind the band of muscles on the side of the neck. These often swell when you have infectious monomiclensis
- Occipital lymph nodes are located at the back of the neck at the base of the skull. These often swell with infections like HIV.
Inguinal lymph nodes are located in the groin. Because they are responsible for
filtering lymphatic fluids from the feet to the groin, they can become swollen for
many reasons. These include injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, skin
infections, yeast infections, and cancer (Bui).
Mediastinal lymph nodes reside in the center of the chest cavity between the lungs. People cannot feel mediastinal lymph nodes, but they can be seen in imaging studies such as a CT scan or positron emission tomography (PET) scan. This is an area where deep breathing can help flush the nodes (Cancer Research UK).
Swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) can occur in response to an infection or
disease in any part of the body. When a lymph node is infected and becomes
swollen, it is referred to as lymphadenitis. Cancer can also affect lymph nodes as it spreads from a tumor or starts in the lymph nodes themselves, also called lymphoma.
If the lymph nodes are stagnant and nothing flows in or out, then it will begin to seep onto the skin. Since the skin is an elimination organ, the lymph system will expel dirty fluid onto the skin if it is unable to pass the fluid through the lymph nodes. This results in bodily reactions, such as eczema, neurodermatitis, psoriasis, and/or dermatitis (Vodder). These manifestations depend on what toxins reside in the nodes: fungi, parasites, bacteria, or viruses.
How Cancer Relates to the Lymph
Lymph nodes are commonly involved with cancer, but their role differs based on
whether a solid tumor or lymphoma is involved. With solid tumors such as breast cancer, cancer cells usually travel to nearby lymph nodes before metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body). Solid tumor cancers are typically staged based on the TNM system. The TNM system describes the severity of the disease based on the size of the tumor (T), the number and location of lymph nodes with cancer (N), and the presence or absence of metastasis (M) (American Cancer Society).
With lymphoma, cancer starts in the lymph nodes. When lymphomas spread to
other parts of the body, it is not referred to as metastasis but rather as extranodal
involvement. Lymphoma is staged based on the number and location of affected lymph nodes, whether one or both sides of the body are involved, and if there is extranodal involvement.
How Self Massage Helps the Lymph
The speed at which the lymph passes through the lymphatic system depends on
many factors; for example, contraction and relaxation of muscles, as well as the negative pressure of chest movement during breathing both help facilitate lymph outflow.
Therefore, exercise significantly accelerates the flow of lymph. By doing exercise,
you can improve the condition of tissue in case of stagnation and swelling in the
joints and muscles. The volume of lymph passing through capillaries and vessels
depends on the pressure inside and outside the vessels.
Massage helps to accelerate the movement of lymph in lymphatic vessels, thus
increasing the outflow of tissue fluid.
- Long circular strokes exert pressure on blood vessels and push the lymphatic fluid to the nearest group of lymph nodes.
- Pressing (kneading) compresses the tissues, and increases the amount of tissue fluid that is sent to the lymphatic vessels.
As a result of the fact that massage movements are carried out in the direction of lymph outflow to the nearest group of lymph nodes, the lymph flow rate increases. Therefore, massage strokes should always be directed to the closest group of lymph nodes. Pressure on the tissue facilities the penetration of liquid through the walls of blood vessels. The fluid from the tissue passes through the lymphatic vessels faster, which prevents or reduces swelling.
In sum, your lymph is an extremely important bodily system. Without it, your body would be unable to remove cellular waste. Your cells need energy to perform their roles, and after consuming energy produce waste. This waste is absorbed by the lymphatic system, filtered, and clean lymph fluid is redistributed to the bloodstream. You can care for your lymph by refraining from a sedintary lifestyle, because moderate movement will produce movement in the lymph. Even deep breathing can assist with this, so the goal is really to just keep moving.
If you think about the phrase the fountain of youth, you may picture a large, circular fountain with a crystal clear stream of water from it. Imagine your lymphatic system in this way. To maintain youthfulness and avoid stagnation, your lymph needs to be moving. You can also incorporate sonic vibrations (such as with the Zoe Bliss) into your routine to add a lymphatic massage to your skincare. As with many health related subjects, the best thing you can do is prevention as opposed to correction. The lymphatic system is still considered a mystery to doctors, so do your best to try and care for it preemptively.
This article was written by Facial Specialist Aesthetician, Eliza Palamarchuk.
American Cancer Society. “Stages of Breast Cancer: Understand Breast Cancer Staging.” Stages of Breast Cancer | Understand Breast Cancer Staging, 8 Nov. 2021, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/understanding-a-breast-cancer-diagnosis/stages-of-breast-cancer.html.
Bui, Toai. and Bruno Bordoni. “Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis: Inguinal Lymph Node.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 8 August 2022.
Butakova, Olga. “Olga Butakova: Lymphatic System, What They Do Not Know 90% of Doctors.” Bashny.net, https://bashny.net/t/en/352585.
Cancer Research UK. “Exercise, Positioning and Lymphoedema.” Coping with Cancer | Cancer Research UK, 28 Feb. 2020, https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/physically/lymphoedema-and-cancer/treating/exercise#:~:text=Deep%20breathing%20is%20helpful%20for,also%20help%20you%20to%20relax.
Cancer Research UK. “The Lymphatic System and Cancer.” Cancer Research UK, Dangoor Education, 11 Aug. 2020, https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/what-is-cancer/body-systems-and-cancer/the-lymphatic-system-and-cancer.
Douketis, James D. “Overview of the Lymphatic System - Heart and Blood Vessel Disorders.” Merck Manuals Consumer Version, Merck Manuals, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/lymphatic-disorders/overview-of-the-lymphatic-system.
“Lymphatic System: Parts & Common Problems.” Cleveland Clinic, 23 Feb. 2020, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21199-lymphatic-system.
MacGill, Markus, and Angelica Balingit. “Lymphatic System: Definition, Anatomy, Function, and Diseases.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2 May 2022, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/303087#anatomy.
MacMillian Cancer Support. “What and How the Lymphatic System Works.” What and How the Lymphatic System Works | Macmillan Cancer Support, 1 Oct. 2018, https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/worried-about-cancer/the-lymphatic-system.
Sif Nielsen and eLearning Unit members Sheetal Kavia and Dhillon Khetani from St George’s, University of London (SGUL) have assisted with figure preparation. Image in (A) modified from OpenStax College under a CC BY 3.0 license. (C) modified from OpenLearn Create under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
Vodder, Emil. “The Lymphatic System and Skin Conditions, Old Age and the Impact of ...” Wounds International, Journal of Lymphoedema, 2017, https://www.woundsinternational.com/download/resource/6170.