Massage Therapy  with Dee Hiatt, 
A Little Known System: Lymph
December, 2003
I have come to appreciate a rather vague system in the body. It’s the lymph system. Even the word “lymph” sounds vague, doesn’t it? Not like the strong word “blood.”

Yet do you know lymph is only called what it is because it is in a lymph vessel? The same fluid in our body is called blood when it is in a blood vessel, lymph when it is in a lymph vessel and interstitial fluid when it is in the spaces within tissues or organs. Lymph and interstitial fluid look clearer than blood because the red blood cells tend to stay in the blood vessels.

As the arterial blood vessels carrying blood from the heart branch into tiny capillaries to better feed the body’s cells, they end in a fine mesh network. There they combine with the tiny capillaries of veins. The small veins become larger vessels as blood is transported back to the heart.

Some of the fluid from the capillary network manages to seep out of the blood vessels into the interstitial spaces. Without a way to pick up the fluid, our tissues would become a soggy mess. To the rescue come the nearby lymph capillaries. They have openings that are 5-6 times larger than those of the venous capillaries. They do a fine job of absorbing the fluid, which, by the way, is now called lymph.

arterial capillaries... blend into... venous capillaries
seepage is picked up by
lymph capillaries

The lymph fluid empties into larger lymph vessels, travels through 400 to 700 lymph nodes for filtering and eventually is dumped back into the venous system just before the veins reach the heart. Pretty neat.

Lymph Nuggets

 Lymph returns important proteins and fluid to the heart.

 Lymph is essential for fighting infections because of its lympho-cytes.

 Lymph travels much slower than blood, going through numerous nodes that act as filters to trap and break down harmful substances. There is more total lymph than blood at any one time but blood cycles through the body much, much more quickly and many, many more times each day.

 Muscle fibers in the most of the lymph vessels push the lymph toward the heart.

 Lymph is not affected by gravity.

 Lymph vessels extend all through the body.

 70% of lymph vessels are found at the superficial level, just under the skin, making the system easily available to massage.

Lymph flow can be increased by:
1) deep abdominal breathing, as with laughter
2) contractions of skeletal muscles, especially in the legs
3) pumping of the arterial blood
4) specialized massage strokes

Specialized Massage for the Lymph System

Very light and slow, rhythmic pressure is applied to the superficial lymph vessels in specific directions that correspond to the lymph flow. Increased pressure is used for the interior vessels. The results are that more fluid is picked up and flows through the lymph vessels. The immune system is stimulated and the nervous system is calmed.

Note: This type of massage therapy does not address the medical condition of lymphedema.
© 2004, Dee Hiatt
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