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The Lymphatic System

 

Today we’re going to introduce you to your lymphatic system. What it is, what it does, and why Osteopaths loves it so much?

So, what is the lymphatic system?

One part of it is a collection of small tubes found right throughout the body, and you can think of these tubes as part of the circulatory system of the body. Say ‘circulatory’ and everyone thinks of blood, arteries and veins, but the buck doesn’t stop there. The lymphatic tubes are well and truly just as important as the tubes that carry blood around the body. The other part of the lymphatic system is a collection of larger tissues found in various areas of the body and you can think of these as part of the body’s defence system. So straight away, you can see it’s pretty darn important!

Let us take a look at these areas in a little more detail… A little recap for you on circulation: arteries take blood from the heart to the body, and veins take blood back to the heart from the body. Where does the lymphatic system fit in to all of this? Well, the tubes (or vessels) of the lymphatic system roughly follow the pathway of the veins of the body (so back towards the heart). The pump of the heart creates pressure, which drives blood through the arteries where it gets distributed around the body providing life-giving nourishment to all of the different tissues of the body (i.e. our skin, muscles, bones and organs). However, the pressure from the arteries causes some of the fluid and nutrients in blood to leak out into the surrounding areas. And this is where the lymphatic tubes kick in. They pick up the excess fluid and nutrients (mainly proteins) and send it all back towards the heart to be re-used by the body. This ensures every valuable bit of fluid and nutrition in the body is not wasted. Very efficient right?! The fluid that travels through lymph vessels is simply called ‘lymph’.

The lymph travels through the lymph vessels by a combination of muscle contractions in the vessel walls, and us moving our bodies (another reason why moving is so good for you!). Along the way back up to the heart, the fluid is passed through a filter station called a lymph node. Here, any of the nasty bacteria, viruses, or even cancer cells that are in the lymph are dealt with swiftly by our defence cells. The freshly cleaned lymph is then sent further along the chain until it reaches a vein close to the heart. It is here where the lymph re-enters the blood and the cycle continues.

Before we forget, in the small intestines there are some very specialised lymph vessels which help the body to absorb fats from the foods we eat. This is another important function of the lymphatic system!

Defence, defence, defence!

On the defensive front, there are various tissues located around the body (called lymphoid tissues) where the production of our defence cells occurs. The main tissues include the ‘thymus’ – which is found in the upper chest region, and the ‘spleen’ – found in the abdomen. If it wasn’t for these handy organs, we would be much more susceptible to infection and disease (and death). So, it’s these organs which help to populate our bodies with the lifesaving defence cells. We have a lot to be thankful for with this system!

Osteopaths love their lymphatic systems

So why are we so interested in this system? Well at the heart of Osteopathy lies the principle of maintaining fluid balance and equilibrium throughout the body. We’re all about keeping the flow going. But sometimes flow of fluid in the body can become compromised, maybe due to injury or disease, and then congestion in the tissues occurs and things start to stagnate. This can lead to a whole host of issues including reduction in movement, pain, and imbalance throughout the body. Regardless of your issue, our treatment will aim to remove any barriers to a functioning system to reinstate flow of fluid through the body. Sometimes a dysfunctional lymphatic system can lead to a type of swelling called lymphedema, which is essentially a backlog of lymph fluid. This often occurs in the hands, arms, feet and legs. Depending on the cause, this is something an Osteopath is skilled at dealing with, so always seek help if you notice swelling.

We hope this has been interesting and educational, and we hope you now have a newfound respect for the intricacies of the human body. After all, it is what keeps you alive, so look after it. Here’s to your good health!!

References:

  1. Chila, A. 2011. Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
  2. Australasian Lymphology Association. 2019. What is Lymphoedema? [Online]. Available from: https://www.lymphoedema.org.au/about-lymphoedema/what-is-lymphoedema/ [Accessed 05 Aug 2019]

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Movement

arent or sibling), then we start to get rudimentary use of our upper limbs, then we learn to lift our head and role onto our stomach, and now we can use our arms to push ourselves up and our neck muscles to support our head. Then we start to get stability in our trunk muscles so that we can sit and start to reach out, and then we are crawling, toddling and eventually running.

In other words we go through a sequence of learning where we move with increasing complexity, from simple reflexes to the ability to stabilise ourselves against gravity and then the ability to perform complex volitional activity such as eating or running.

This means that if we need to restore movement, say after an injury or an illness, we need to think in terms of this hierarchy, reflexes - stability - complex movement.

Humans are unique in that we have a complex postural system that enables us to stand upright on two unstable pins, that's why it takes us three years to learn to walk efficiently.  But it is under constant stress and it's ability to perform this task starts to deteriorate as we age unless we take steps to keep it in top condition.

In research published in Queensland:  Falling is not just for older women: support for pre-emptive prevention intervention before 60 (J.C Nitz and N.L Low Choy 2008), the researchers assessed women between the ages of 40 and 80 for the risk of falling. 8% of women in their forties, 14% in their 50s, 25% in their 60s and 40% in their 70s had fallen in the previous 12 months. In addition, the risk of falling increased significantly if the woman had other health problems.

Their conclusions was that for women over 40 years old, the number of illnesses increase the risk of falling and the risks increased still further if they were over 60. Preventative program participation aimed at maintaining good health appears vital to prevent falls.

To put it another way, our stability starts to drop in our 40's.  Falls are a natural consequence of reduced stability but they are not the only consequence. The early consequences are less efficient use of posture which leads to stiffness and back pain. 

So, in order to perform any meaningful activity, we must first be stable. Stability is really the ability to maintain balance while we shift our weight. When it starts to drop it means that we have less ability to generate momentum to move forwards. And if we are unable to generate as much momentum, then our step gets shorter, and if our step gets really short we require a stick to help support ourselves. Thus our ability to move becomes compromised.

So as we get older we get stiffer and less stable, which leads to weight bearing changes. It also leads to restriction in movement.  It's important therefore to not only keep mobile but also work on keeping yourself stable. Exercise that can help this includes dance, yoga and Tai Chi. It is also important to work on your posture. Posture is basically how well you control your relationship to the ground and how efficiently you are able to shift your weight in order to generate momentum.

 

Perfect Posture Program

If you want to lean more about posture and how to keep yourself mobile and pain free, then we have an educational program that maybe for you. Our Perfect Posture Program has been developed from 25 years of rehabilitation of chronic back pain, and 10 years of measuring balance and analysing posture with computerised posturography. The purpose of the program is to teach you how your postural system works, so that you can use it in any situation, whether you are standing at a meeting, sitting at your desk or putting your child in the back of the car.  This six week program is suitable for anyone who wishes to improve their posture from children aged eight and above, right through to seniors.

 

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Beaches Osteopathic Centre Pty Ltd
ABN:  48 105 006 728

21/20 Wellington Street
NARRABEEN NSW 2101
AUSTRALIA
​​​​​​​02 9913 7900

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