Lymphatic System (Creatively) Explained.
I recall being told in a grade school health class that my blood carried oxygen to all parts of my body and that it also had something to do with cleaning away dead cells. If pressed I may have been able to come up with the terms circulatory system and glands, as something that might swell if you had infections.
I don’t know if this lack of knowledge is the norm but the physiotherapists patiently explained what I didn’t know. (Note – I have forgotten some of the terms and my explanation has morphed a lot, but I hope that it gives you a bit of an idea, even with its inaccuracies.)
The blood is pumped through the vessels by the heart’s action. Swish, swish, swish. A component of the blood, a very fine liquid, seeps through the capillary walls as the cleaning agent. This fluid becomes thicker with each dead cell it gathers. It can’t return to the bloodstream, so this thick and dirty fluid is transported by the lymphatic system which works in a different fashion. I think of this system as being similar to how sap runs in trees, no heart is pumping but the liquids still move.
Within the body are several clusters of lymph nodes that are in charge of taking care of this dirty lymphatic fluid, so that it does not cause infections. It is a pretty efficient system normally. The clusters I speak of are located in the armpits and the groin area and each cluster is managing a specific limb. (Lymph node clusters also are in the neck.) This means that my lymphedema is specific to my right arm, because it was my right armpit that had lymph node removal. I do have approximately half of the lymph nodes in my right armpit, so I still have some lymphatic function.
My blood pressure has to be controlled. Remember that fine liquid that seeps through the walls of the blood vessels? A higher blood pressure means that more liquids will be pushed through, so blood pressure normalcy is vital to not burden the lymphatic system. The compression garments that I wear are basically designed to push back, to keep those fluids in check. It is also important to maintain meticulous skin care because extra fluids are sent to wounds and injuries.
The concerns with fluids that gather and are not handled by the lymphatic system are twofold. First, the fluids are dirty and can cause infections. Cellulitis is a real and dangerous possibility. The second effect of gathered fluids is scarring. Those scarred tissues are even more likely to retain the fluids.