Lymphatic System Basics

Functions of the Lymphatic System for Massage Therapists/Students:

  • Draining interstitial fluid

  • Protecting against invasion – immune response involving the Tand B lymphocytes and also phagocytes

  • Transporting dietary fats – carry lipids and lipid soluble vitamins from the gastrointestional system into the blood

  • Returns nutrients and proteins to the blood

Lymphatic Vessels and Lymph

Lymphatic Capillaries – close ended vessels in the spaces between the cells of the body which are slightly larger than blood capillaries.  Allows interstitial fluid to flow into them but not out.  The ends of the endothelial cells overlap acting as one way valves. Found throughout the body except in avascular tissue, the CNS and bone marrow.   Capillaries converge into lymphatic vessels.

Components of Lymph – water, oxygen, nutrients, proteins, some fats, hormones

Lymphatic Circulation- Lymph is moved via skeletal muscle pump and the respiratory pump.  Lymphatic vessels lie in the subcutaneous tissue and generally follow veins.  Lymphatic vessels of the viscera generally follow arteries forming plexuses around them.

Lymphatic Vessels: (from smallest to largest)

  1. Lymphatic Capillaries

  2. Lymphatic Vessels

  3. Lymphatic trunks – named for the area of the body that they drain – lumbar, intestinal, bronchomediastinal, subclavian and jugular trunks

  4. Lymphatic ducts:
    Right lymphatic duct – approximately 1/2 inch long, drains the right upper side of the body and empties into the subclavian vein
    Thoracic (left lymphatic) duct – approximately 18 inches long.  Starts as a narrowing of the cisterna chyli in front of second lumbar vertebra.  Cisterna chyli receives lymph from the right and left lumbar trunks and from the intestinal trunk. All of the body that is not drained by the right duct.

Lymph Nodes

Nodes are oval or bean shaped and are found around lymphatic vessels.  They range from .04 inches to 1 inch in length.  Found in groups scattered throughout the body.  Usually a superficial set and a deep set.

Most important lymph nodes: Cervical, axillary, tracheobronchial nodes, messenteric nodes

Other lymphatic tissues:

Tonsils – pharyngeal, palatine, lingual

Spleen – phagocytosis of worn out or damaged Red Blood Cells and platelets

Thymus gland – in front of the heart

Health Conditions:

Metastisis – cancer may travel though lymphatic system

Edema- from increased permeability of capillaries from infections or drugs or damage. Increased venous pressure from cardiac problems or blood clots.



Milady’s Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage

Foundations of Manual Lymph Drainage

The Lymphatic System on

Articles Online:

The Benefits of Lymphatic Massage Discover How To Boost Energy and Immunity By Cathy Ulrich

Lymph Drainage Therapy An Effective Complement to Breast Care By Bruno Chikly, M.D.

Lymph Drainage for Detoxification  By Boris Prilutsky

Lymph Massage Armoring the Immune System By Karrie Osborn

The Evolving Practice of Breast Massage By Kate Jordan, NCTMB

Chikly Health Institute– articles on LDT

Lymph Drainage Therapy on – great resource with good pictures. – understanding the lymphatic system.

Learn Lymphatic Drainage techniques:

International Alliance of Healthcare Educators: Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) is an original hands-on method of lymphatic drainage developed by Bruno Chikly, MD, of France. Based on the traditional knowledge of Emil Vodder and F.P. Millard. LDT combines precise anatomical and physiological knowledge with techniques of direct listening that enable practitioners to very effectively stimulate the lymphatic flow.

North American Vodder Association: