What is the Lymphatic System and what does it do?

The lymphatic system has two primary functions – stop swelling and stop us from getting sick! The lymphatic system is made of nodes, vessels, organs and lymph to get the job done.


When our blood circulates around our body, fluid leaks into our tissue.  The Lymphatic system ‘mops’ up this excess fluid sitting in our body. Without this function, we would blow up like a balloon!

Good health

Another major function of the lymphatic system is being a part of our immune system.  It cleans up and destroys pathogens, cancer cells and cell products that otherwise would result in disease. When our Lymphatic System is working well, we can have viruses or bacteria in our bodies, and not be aware of it because our Lymphatic System processes it for us. However, if we are run down or stressed, we can become unwell, while our Lymphatic System is trying its best to process the ‘invader’ in our body.

Sometimes you may notice nodes in your neck, armpit or groin are enlarged, this is the lymph nodes processing the ‘invaders’ to try and help you get better.

Caring for the Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic System has no official pump to get your lymph moving around the body (unlike our blood, which has the heart to get it moving).

Steps to help your lymphatic system to move more efficiently are:

  • Exercise – muscle contraction is how lymph moves. Our muscles ‘pump’ our lymph vessels – so the more you move, the more efficiently your lymph will flow.
  • Breathing – particularly deep diaphragmic breathing. Getting our diaphragm moving, helps the deep lymphatic system.
  • Compression – for those that experience swelling, wearing compression garments are a great tool to help the muscles contract more efficiently.

Superficial vs Deep Lymphatic System

Our lymphatic system has 2 systems – superficial and deep.

The superficial system lies just under our skin and is the system your Lymphoedema Practitioner is working with during Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD).  MLD uses soft, slow, pumping hand movements on your skin to encourage your lymph to move more efficiently. Also, when doing Dry Brushing you are working with your superficial system.

The deep system relies on exercise and breathing to get moving.  Clients over the years who are wearing compression garments or using compression pumps have said they feel their abdomen is swelling or a heaviness under their sternum (they were not shown how to open their lymphatic system).  For my clients, I explain that they must get their deep system working with deep breathing and learn how to open up their Lymphatic System.  Subsequently, clients report that swelling subsides once they start doing the deep breathing and sequence I teach them.

Fun facts about the Lymphatic System:

  • Without it we would die within 24- 48 hours
  • Without it we would swell up like a balloon
  • We have hundreds of nodes in our abdomen, not just in our neck, armpit and groin
  • It has no pump, (like the circulatory system) so relies on muscle contraction, gravity, breathing and pressure to move around the body
  • It is double the size and moves twice the amount of fluid daily around our body as the circulatory system
  • It is a one-way system, that drains into the circulatory system above the collarbone

Unfortunately, the Lymphatic System has not had a lot of attention in the past, but slowly we are realising the importance of what it does!

Learn more about the Services we offer to help keep your Lymphatic System healthy or call Lisa O’Shea directly.

Do you have a question? 

Contact our Lymphoedema Practitioner – Lisa O’Shea on 0439 618 455 or book an appointment for our Brown’s Plains clinic.