As you may already know, fascia is the essential webbing that holds much of our bodies together. From the thin, loose layers of superficial fascia under the skin, to the thick, fibrous patches of deep fascia which support our muscles, this tissue is essential to helping our body slide, glide, and support its own weight.
For a long time, fascia was overlooked as a subject of scientific research. But in recent decades, more experts are paying attention to this interesting tissue. While the fascial network’s effect on mobility and pain is well-documented, newer findings have discovered another essential role of fascia: lymph transport.
What is the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is an essential process in the human body’s natural immune response. It comprises several internal organs and lymph vessels, which, much like blood vessels, are responsible for circulating fluids through the tissues of the body.
Lymph is a clear or white fluid that contains white blood cells, particularly lymphocytes. Lymphocytes combat germs, foreign substances, and anomalous cells, such as cancer cells. Lymph also carries macrophages, which counteract ‘bad bacteria’ and protect the body from infection. Lastly, lymph also collects waste products from the body’s tissues as it passes through and cleanses the body of them. The lymphatic system starts and ends in your lymph nodes, which clean the fluid and continuously add more lymphocytes.
Like the blood pumping through your veins, the lymphatic system is a circulatory system. Unlike blood, however, there is no heart to pump the lymph through your system. So how does this substance make its way through your body? The answer is via the fascial tissue.
How Does Fascia Support the Lymphatic System?
Before, we mentioned two kinds of fascia:
Superficial fascia – Found just underneath the skin, this loose, semi-relaxed matrix of interwoven collagen and fat cells helps the outer layers of the body to hold their shape.
Deep fascia – Found deeper within the body, deep fascia is a tough, more densely-woven tissue that protects and separates key muscle groups and tendons.
However, there’s actually a third kind of fascia as well, which is responsible for several roles in the body. Think of it as a jack of all trades, responsible for holding all the layers of fascia and other tissue together. This is appropriately called loose fascia, since it can range from web-like to membranous, depending on its location.
Recent research has discovered another role of loose fascia: to support the lymphatic system. Scientists discovered pockets of fluid and loose fascia in certain parts of the body which not only aid kinetic movement, but also help in part to move lymph and other substances throughout your body. These spaces go by a few names, but the most common term is interstitium.
Since the lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump (i.e. a heart), it relies on the fascial network and these interstitium areas to slowly push and squeeze lymph through your system, similar to a low-pressure valve.
Healthy fascial tissue is smooth, lubricated, and able to easily move around the surrounding tissues when required. This means that your lymphatic system can more easily function, optimizing your body’s immune response and filtration ability. However, the fascia can sometimes be restricted, limiting your lymph transport. This can be caused by many issues, including:
- Dysfunctional posture
- Scar tissue (especially from surgery)
- Surgical removal of lymph nodes (such as in cancer treatment)
Restricted fascia places a large amount of strain and tension on the surrounding areas. Particularly severe cases can even grind your lymphatic system and drainage processes to a halt. Effects of slowed lymphatic drainage can vary greatly but might include:
- Chronic swelling
- Fluid pooling
- Swollen, puffy, or inflamed joints
- Pain in joints and surrounding areas
- Joint instability
- Lack of joint mobility
Supporting Lymph Transport with Fascial Release
All of this can sound like a lot of information. It can seem unbelievable that something as simple as poor posture can eventually lead to a decreased immune response, but it’s true. Research on the relationship between fascia and other key systems of the body is ongoing, but from the information we already have, it’s clear that keeping the fascia healthy is also an essential part of keeping the person healthy.
So what’s the solution? Fascial release therapy. As mentioned, fascia becomes restricted by a number of potential causes, leading to it becoming stiff, sticky, and immobile. Not only does this restrict lymph transport, but it can also lead to other symptoms, including:
- Pain in the area that only gets worse with time
- Pain in a different part of the body (a phenomenon called ‘referred pain’ which causes nerve signals to travel through the fascial network)
- Ongoing lack of mobility and flexibility
Thankfully, restricted fascial is a completely treatable condition, provided you work with an expert. In my practice, I commonly work with people to gently yet consistently release their fascia and get their bodies working smoothly again. I use specially-designed fascial release balls, which come in a variety of textures and densities to target hard-to-reach areas of fascial tissue.
In combination with my extensive experience in fascial release, along with my commitment to a completely personalized treatment process, I’ve been able to help others release tension, reduce pain, and support their essential immune processes all at once. Fascial release therapy is a non-invasive, accessible, highly-customizable modality of treatment, and I’ve seen firsthand the profound effects it can have on those who need it.
If you have more questions about the link between the fascial network and the lymphatic system, the different kinds of fascia and their roles in the body, or the details of fascial release therapy, don’t hesitate to get in touch.