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The Importance of the Lymphatic System in Disease and Manual Treatment Approaches

by Jonathan Lawrence(more info)

listed in craniosacral therapy, originally published in issue 227 - January 2016

Not need to tell you I am sure, but we live in world with unprecedented levels of artificial chemicals. We have not evolved to deal with these agents some of which are not biodegradable and therefore cumulative. They are all toxic to some extent. The true natures of the toxic effects are often only partially known. As they have been in the environment for a relatively short time long term effects are unknown. In addition how these toxins interact with each other is uncertain. I think it is fair to say that the lack of precaution in this matter is driven by economics, principally the pursuit of profit.

Lymphatic Drainage

Reprinted from Manual Lymphatic Drainage - Therapeutic Applications by Brina Eidelson.
originally published in PH Online Issue 71 - Dec 2001.

Toxins can be divided into two groups, those that originate in the external environment and those that are generated by the body as the result of metabolic processes and for whatever reason are difficult to eliminate. Examples of toxins can be industrial by-products, cosmetics, medicines including vaccines, cleaning materials, GMOs and pesticides. Temporally associated with the increase in these chemicals is the explosion of chronic disease in the developed world and beyond.

Chronic illness accounted for 87% of deaths in 2002 according to estimates by WHO. The authors of the report speculatively put this down to ageing populations and lifestyle factors.[1] Toxic burden is not considered to be an issue; I think it is fair to say that this probable major cause is seriously under researched. The lobbying power of major corporations in determining policy is difficult to underestimate and as most of the newer toxins in our world are tied to corporate profits. This will not change anytime soon.

The cost of managing chronic illnesses in the US has been estimated at $908b dollars a year.[2] It was not always thus. HH Reckeweg father of Homotoxicology stated that the proportion of illnesses in Hahnemann’s - the Originator of Homeopathy - time was 80:20 proportion of acute to chronic illnesses. Whereas in the 20th century and beyond this has been reversed.[3]

So as practitioners what can we do about this?

Initially we need to understand how it is possible to help the system detoxify. Detoxification occurs though respiration, sweating, the digestive system and the vascular system. The vascular system comprises, the arterial, venous and lymphatic sections. In this article I want to concentrate on the lymphatics as they are an important component of detoxification of the extra cellular matrix (ECM).

Six-Phase Table

Fig 1 Six Phase table

Reckeweg extended the concept developed by Hering’s law of cure[4] in the six phase table (Fig 1), now known as the Disease Evolution Table (DET). This concept illustrates how the body attempts to deal with toxins:  The initial phases of intoxication are excretory; if the system fails to resolve the issue toxins are isolated in the ECM (Matrix Phases). During the Matrix phase the biological divide occurs. To the left are the more acute and more easily resolvable conditions and to the right are the more pathological states. On the right side the system attempts to isolate the toxins in cysts and ultimately in cellular phases where the isolated tissue becomes dedifferentiated and therefore cancerous.

The ECM provides the environment for the cells to function and communicate. ECM provides nutrients and disposes of toxins the latter requiring a well-functioning lymphatic system.  As AT Still, founder of osteopathy said in 1899

 “The fascia is the place to look for the cause of disease and the place to consult and begin the action of remedies in all diseases.”[5]

In order to see how we can aid the lymphatic system in achieving its work we need to know how it functions. The lymphatics have a role in:

  1. Fluid regulation;
  2. Fatty acid regulation;
  3. Detoxification;
  4. Drainage;
  5. Immunity.

Lymph Drainage Channels

Fig 2 Major Lymph Drainage Channels, Grays Anatomy

From the ECM the lymphatic system originates as blind-ended capillaries with valves that only allow fluid movement in one direction (Fig 3). As they progress through the body the vessels get progressively larger passing though lymph nodes, specialized lymph tissue such as the tonsils and the spleen then into the large thoracic ducts that empty into the venous system.

Lymph Capillaries

Fig 3 Diagram of Lymph Capillaries showing valves and unidirectional flow ( )

Lymph is largely propelled by body motion and muscular contraction. As many a sentry will testify, standing still for long periods causes pooling of lymph in the lower limbs and therefore oedema. Human beings were not designed and to sit at a desk or in a car seat for hours on end; we need to be in motion so that lymph can effectively be moved. Sitting is now being recognized as a major risk factor in illness.[6]

A newly discovered vascular detoxification system[7] has also been discovered in the brain. Dubbed the ‘glymphatic system’ this works hard during sleep using space in the glia to remove toxins and pass them into the blood stream. Suddenly the importance of sleep is not so mysterious. This discovery has important implications in craniosacral therapy.

Osteopaths have developed a series of dynamic techniques to move lymph, known as lymph pumps.[8,9] These utilize the osteopathic principles of the use of long levers, which require less force, and the efficacy of recoil to propel the lymph. If these procedures are carried out accurately and skilfully the body under normal circumstances does the rest. These techniques can be utilized as part of detoxification and drainage and also in acute illness such as infections. In acute cases little and often is the rule.

There are a number of illnesses in which dysfunction of the lymph system is a key factor. Some intriguing research by osteopath Dr Raymond Perrin implicates the failure of the larger lymph vessels to move lymph in ME/CFS along with chronic dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system. The result is a build-up of toxins in the central nervous system (CNS). One of the key techniques in detoxification of the CNS is craniosacral drainage of the cribiform plate of the ethmoid bone thus encouraging detoxification of the brain.(Fig 4)

Craniosacral Treatment of the Ethmoid Bone Re-Sized

Fig 4 Craniosacral treatment of the ethmoid bone.

Returning to the ubiquity of toxic chemicals, it has been postulated that chemicals in underarm deodorants create toxicity in the upper quadrant of the anterior thorax[10] and that the wearing of bras can impede lymphatic drainage contributing to the epidemic rates of breast cancer. According to Dr Michael Schacter MD in his article

The Prevention and Complementary Treatment of Breast CancerOver 85 percent of the lymph fluid flowing from the breast drains to the armpit lymph nodes. Most of the rest drains to the nodes along the breast bone. Bras and other external tight clothing can impede flow”.[11]

These manual approaches should be used in the context of other methods such as manipulation, nutrition, herbs or homeopathy along with lifestyle changes. They are most effective with illnesses that are part of the Matrix phases of disease (see Fig 1).  Used little and often they can be helpful in acute illnesses. A note of caution with more pathological conditions such as neoplasia these conditions can be contraindicated so advice of an expert is required to see whether they are indicated.


  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Overview: Costs of Chronic Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Available at


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About Jonathan Lawrence

Jonathan Lawrence BA DO Cert Ed, following 4 years teaching Environmental Science, trained at the European School of Osteopathy graduating in 1985. Jonathan has been practising Osteopathy in private practice for 25 years, treating patients of all ages – from babies to the elderly. Having lectured to audiences ranging from small technique classes to presenting at the 2008 Advancing Osteopathy Conference, he established Turning Point Training in order to bring high quality and affordable professional courses in Craniosacral and positional release techniques to practitioners trained in conventional or complementary medicine. He may be contacted on Tel: 01769 579004;  

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