Well, there’s several very important differences and I’ll try to explain here.
Firstly, what does the lymphatic system look like and what does it do –
The lymphatic system is responsible for removing waste from our bodies and it plays a very important role in our immune system too.
Everywhere we have blood vessels, we also have lymphatic vessels that run alongside the blood vessels. Most people are familiar with or have some idea of the network of blood vessels that runs through our body, so why do not automatically think of the lymphatic vessels at the same time? I don’t know how to answer that, because to me it seems mad. But you don’t know what you don’t know! Keep reading to become informed!
The lymphatic system can be divided up into different ‘drainage areas’ and each drainage area collects fluid and waste from that section of the body, carries it to the lymph nodes in that drainage area, where it is filtered, and where the lymph nodes will look for anything that shouldn’t be in our system, for example, a bacteria or virus. The lymph nodes will signal the brain to signal to the body to produce the disease fighting cells required to kill, or quite literally to eat/consume the invader cells. For this reason, I always refer to the lymphatic system as the engine of our immune system.
When everything is working as it should, the lymphatic system detoxes the body, removing waste, filtering, sorting out any invaders, and at the same time bringing fresh fluid and proteins to the tissues of the body, which promotes normal healing and healthy tissue in the body. The body is doing this all the time, and while it’s working effectively we don’t need to think about this process, it just happens.
However, what happens if the lymphatic system is NOT working effectively? What then? Well, if this process slows down, we don’t remove waste effectively, we don’t filter and identify the invaders as effectively, we don’t have lovely fresh fluid and proteins flowing to the body as effectively. This can lead to stagnancy, and we don’t like stagnancy!
Stagnant fluid in the body can lead to inflammation, a toxic environment for our cells and organs, infections (such as cellulitis), pooling of fluid or swelling, pain, discomfort etc etc. It’s not something we want, at all. And we need to give the body a helping hand if it ends up in this situation.
There are several reasons why a drainage area might not be working effectively:
- There may be a genetic predisposition, problems with the lymphatic system might run in the family. We see this mostly in women, but it can occur in men too. We call this Primary Lymphedema, primary meaning that the problem was already in existence, if you like. And Lymphedema essentially means: Lymph Swelling, or swelling due to lymphatic fluid. The fault is there from birth and maybe the lymphatic system copes just fine, until something puts extra pressure on it and pushes it over the edge, so to speak. Now we need to help the body out, because it can’t cope on its own. Hormonal changes can be a trigger for the symptoms, we we often see signs of issues during puberty, pregnancy or menopause.
- An illness can put so much stress on the lymphatic system (remember, it’s the engine of our immune system) that it becomes over-loaded. Lymph nodes working over-time may become inflamed, hardened, blocked, and then it becomes a challenge to filter and flow lymphatic fluid through the nodes.
- The same can happen due to chronic stress. Because stress actually changes the levels of certain chemicals in our system, making it harder for the body to fight disease. The lymphatic system has to work over-time again and can become blocked, as with an illness.
- An injury or trauma can damage some of the lymphatic vessels and/or lymph nodes.
- Surgery may be performed to remove lymph nodes from the body, leaving that drainage area with a weakness, it’s now operating below 100%. Unfortunately this is very common during cancer treatment. We call this Secondary Lymphedema – essentially meaning that some outside factor caused the Lymphedema.
- Radiation treatment can have the same effect.
- Being overweight can also put extra strain on your lymphatic vessels as well as your blood vessels and this can cause symptoms of Lymphedema.
The swelling occurs because the lymphatic system is not able to perform at its best and the fluid that circulates in the system gets stuck, if you like. In the case where lymph nodes are removed, especially where several are removed, it’s like the fluid comes to a dead end where the nodes used to be, and it simply seeps into the surrounding tissue. Or maybe it makes sense to visualise it like a water pipe, but part of the pipe is gone. Does that make more sense?
So, if you know you have a damaged drainage area, you know you are at risk of developing lymphedema. Even if you don’t notice any symptoms, you are at risk. The good news is, acknowledging this means that you can learn about it and keep on top of it to avoid or mitigate issues down the road.
Exercise, yoga, deep breathing, simple lymphatic drainage, massage, hydration and other things can help get your lymph flowing, but if you have a damaged drainage area (there’s that term again!) you ALSO need to know how to move the fluid OUT of the damaged area. This is the KEY!!! This is the part that matters, and unfortunately, this is the part that is often missing from your lymphatic exercise and yoga videos, as well as many body brushing videos. You don’t know what you don’t know, and if you don’t know how to care for DAMAGED lymphatic systems, then you won’t know that this vital piece of information and the vital techniques that go along with it, are missing.
But I can teach you all about this and show you what you can do specifically for your damaged lymphatic system, for your body, for your symptoms.
Would you like to learn everything you need to know to:
- avoid the onset of swelling?
- deal with swelling that’s already occurring?
- improve your immune system?
- reduce your stress levels?
- improve mobility?
- reduce discomfort?
- avoid infections that come hand in hand with stagnant fluid in the body?
If the answer is yes, then check out my online course page to read more about the course that covers everything you need to know about self-managing Secondary Lymphedema, in short video modules. For Primary lymphedema click here. Or book an online consultation with me to discuss your concerns and find out the best next steps for you and your body (firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me via my contact page).