Have you ever wondered why you're swelling? Swelling sucks, luckily, there is so much we can do to help reduce it. To better understand chronic swelling and/or lymphedema, let’s get to know how the lymphatic system works so we can decide how to best care for our bodies.
The lymphatic system runs throughout our body and is part of our all-important immune system. One of its jobs is to collect and clean waste-filled fluid. The circulatory system leaks watery fluid into our tissues which is filled with oxygen and nutrients that nourish our cells. Once this fluid has completed its job, our lymphatic system, which runs alongside the circulatory system, removes the waste and extra fluid.
The lymphatic system can be broken down into two parts: the superficial and deep lymphatics. The superficial lymphatics, which lie just beneath our skin, run on low pressure designed to easily "suck" in the waste-filled fluid surrounding our tissues. The deep lymphatic system consists of larger vessels (which transport the fluid) and nodes (which clean the fluid). Once the fluid has been cleaned, it returns to the circulatory system so the process can start again.
The circulatory system travels back and forth from its central pump, the heart. However, the lymphatic system does not have a central pump and only travels in one direction from your extremities toward the neck. Although lymphatic vessels have some pumping ability, they're not enough. As a result, our lymphatic system relies heavily on muscle contractions from body movement and even breathing, to help take in and move the lymph fluid through this one-way system. Luckily, we can easily stimulate the superficial lymphatic to help it move fluid.
Here's where swelling comes in. When the lymphatic system is not working properly, it slows the cleaning and transport process which causes fluid to backup, presenting as swelling. Swelling may be caused for a number of reasons but in the case of our lymphatic system, there are two conditions: primary and secondary lymphedema.
Primary lymphedema is when you're born with a malformed lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema can be caused by venous insufficiency, surgery, infection or damage caused by cancer treatments. To learn more about primary and secondary lymphedema, check out The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Lymphedema.
For those of us that deal with chronic swelling, understanding the design of the lymphatic system allows us to play a big part in helping to support its function through self care activities.One of the most common and effective ways to manage chronic swelling is wearing graduated compression garments. I know this can sound overwhelming and scary, but thankfully, there are options in compression garments. The newest technology is Active Massage compression. To learn more about the difference between classic and Active Massage compression, check out: Active Massage vs. Traditional Compression Garments for Lymphedema.