What You Always Wanted to Know About Lymphatics
To understand the function of the lymphatic system, one must first examine the circulation of blood through our body at the cellular level. Arteries terminate at the capillary bed where oxygen and nutrient rich blood leaks out of the smallest arteries (arterioles) and bathes our tissues in life sustaining fluid.
The smallest veins, called venules, collect most of this nutrient-depleted fluid, returning it to the heart to begin the process anew. I used the word “most” because 10% of the fluid (that which contains large protein molecules) cannot pass through the small holes in the venules and must be removed from our tissues by another system. That system is the lymphatic system.
This protein rich fluid, collected by the lymphatic system, contains dead cells, bacteria, toxins, inflammation, even cancer cells. Once collected by the lymphatic vessels, the fluid, now called “lymph,” is propelled back towards the heart through a series of one-way valves. The lymphatic fluid then flows through “lymph nodes” which contain immunological cells (immune system cells) that kill off harmful micro-organisms like viruses and bacteria contained in the lymphatic fluid. The lymphatic system, in essence, “cleans” the space between the cells (called the interstitial space) of unwanted molecules and fluids.
Lymphatic Vessel Walls Contract
Several forces are involved in the propagation of lymphatic fluid against gravity, including actual contractions of the lymphatic vessel walls. Lymphatic vessel segments, termed lymphangions, contract every 6-8 seconds pushing the lymphatic fluid through each successive one way valve as illustrated below. These miniature pumps are currently the focus of intensive research due to the association of lymphatic dysfunction with multiple diseases.
Since lymphatic vessels are contractile, the possibility of a protective “vasospasm” must be examined. Lymphatic vessels, which are sensitive to inflammation and endotoxins can be stimulated to contract by the presence of these chemicals, narrowing the diameter of the lymphatic vessel which subsequently makes the lymphatic pump mechanism, less effective. This condition, called ”lymphatic dysfunction,” leads to fluid stasis and an accumulation of inflammatory chemicals in the involved tissues.
So what are the clinical signs of lymphatic dysfunction? Patients with lymphatic dysfunction typically present with chronic muscle pain (myalgia) or chronic inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis or bursitis. They may also suffer from other fluid-related conditions, such as chronic sinusitis, migraine headachesortinnitus (ringing in the ears). Patients diagnosed with Lymes disease, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome also typically present with a significant amount of lymphatic tender points.
Lymphatic Treatment Through Counterstrain
The Counterstrain approach to lymphatic treatment involves directly treating the lymphatic vessel wall when it presents with a diagnostic tender point indicating that the vessel wall or lymphangion is in a chronic state of contraction.
As with all Counterstrain treatments, we use passive shortening of the involved structure, in this case, a lymphatic vessel segment, to correct the vasospasm. Once successfully treated, the lymphatic segment’s ”pump mechanism” is restored, allowing the lymphatic system to function normally, cleansing the area of chemical irritants.
After receiving a lymphatic Strain and Counterstrain treatment, patients typically report immediate pain reduction. The treatment for hip bursitis, for example (shown on the left), literally drains the bursa of swelling which immediately improves the patient’s hip mobility and his or her ability to lie on the affected side.
If you feel you may have lymphatic dysfunction, you can set up a detailed evaluation with one of the trained Strain and Counterstrain practitioners at Farrell and Associates Physical Therapy or use the Jones Institute website to find a trained practitioner in your area.
For additional uses of Strain and Counterstrain please see:
Strain and Counterstrain for the Nervous System
Strain and Counterstrain for the Musculoskeletal System
Strain and Counterstrain for the Lymphatic System
Strain and Counterstrain for the Viscera