Our lymph system is a circulatory system not unlike our vascular system with one major difference, it doesn’t have a pump-a heart. Lymph is also a return only network, the vascular equivalent of veins, and uses our arteries to bring lymph fluid out to the extremities of our bodies. The lymph delivers immune system components and returns with metabolic wastes and large particles we clear from our systems. Because there is no pumping mechanism, there is no systemic lymph pressure and lymph fluid circulates solely on contraction of our muscles as we move and a network of one way valves.
Our cousins move more efficiently vertically than horizontally
While our ancestors lived in their native habitat lymph circulated adequately as they were consistently in motion. As we adopted a more complex social network, our options for movement became more restricted, to the point where now it is normal to sit relatively motionless for hours on end. While we are motionless our lymph systems ability to support immune function and remove wastes is compromised. The solution is to change position, even momentarily, every few minutes. Drinking lots of water also supports lymph function.
Another thing we can do is hang by our arms. Lymph moves through the body primarily to a point behind the right Pectoral muscle. Here it is returned to the vascular system. To re-enter the vascular system requires that it’s pressure surmount blood pressure. It is my opinion that the primary way our body developed to accomplish this is by hanging by our arms. This utilizes the Pectoral muscle as a pump. Our ancestors spent a lot of time in trees where hanging by the arms was part of everyday movement. (more on hanging and the spine)
It makes sense that the lymph pump would evolve to take advantage of this area of changing tension as the body weight is picked up by the arms. It has only been the last few thousand, and perhaps few hundred years where our level of activity has been low enough to compromise lymph function.*
We can support and encourage our Lymph flow by being active, exercising our upper body and hanging by our arms, just for a moment as often as we can. If you don’t have a place to put up a bar to hang from in a convenient location in your house, you can hang from doors. Just grab the top of the door far enough from the hinge so that you don’t pinch your fingers and bend your knees. This is a great lower pectoral stretch. (if you are big, like me, you need to pick your door carefully so you don’t yank it off of its hinges) Because you are controlling your weight with your legs you can work into the stretch slowly, preventing the pectoral muscle from tightening and letting all the muscle fibers and fasciae stretch out.
Deep Massage should always consider the direction of Lymph flow. Stroke from the extremities in the direction of the right pectoral muscle. A stroke in the opposite direction may apply excessive pressure to the valves of the lymph system and should be done cautiously and only when called for. Further discussion of Lymph function and a self maintenance technique:
Also, water helps flush lymph and it is very important to always drink lots of water. When we are de-hydrated our lymph flow slows down. The rule of thumb, unfortunately, is that you are hydrated when you are peeing a lot.
*) I read a study which found a statistically significant reduction in breast cancer in women who actively engaged their upper bodies. I was unfortunately unable to locate it for this post.
This new research finds a direct connection between the lymphatic / immune systems and the central nervous system: