5 Stretches That Benefit the Lymphatic System and Why It Matters

You know when you're hit with an annoying sore throat and your neck lymph nodes temporarily swell? That's the lymphatic system at work.

According to Dr. Joseph Nevarez, MD, an assistant professor and medical director of the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine, Wound, and Lymphedema Care at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, TX, the lymphatic system — which is a network of tissues and organs — circulates protein-rich lymph fluid throughout the body, clearing it of infection and waste, which are filtered out by white blood cells at lymph nodes throughout the body.

Drinking water, eating healthily, avoiding pollutants, managing stress, and exercising are the key components of maintaining a healthy lymphatic system. In return, Leython Williams, DPT, a licensed physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy, notes that this can protect you from disease.

Williams explains that the act of stretching helps the lymph fluid move throughout the lymphatic system, releasing blockage, decreasing swelling, and promoting a healthy movement of nutrients and waste.

Dr. Nevarez supports this idea with the notion that exercises can be incorporated into routine daily activities such as walking to, from, and during work, using stairs, and carrying groceries. Deep abdominal breathing, aerobic exercises that promote increased range in motion, light resistance training that facilitates circulatory pumping, and flexibility boosting stretches — no matter how simple — can help you maintain good health.

With that said, there's no need to sign up for a HIIT class right off the bat. Stretching is a great starting point.

Now that you are on a first-name basis with your lymphatic system, why not thank it for the Winter-long protection by loosening up? Check out the five moves curated by Williams ahead.

Shoulder Shrugs

  • Stand or sit in a comfortable position.
  • As you inhale, draw both shoulders up toward your ears and then exhale, releasing your shoulders to a neutral position.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Neck Rotations

  • Seated or standing, inhale as you slowly turn your head to the right for a count of five.
  • Pause for one second and then exhale, bringing your head back to center for a count of five.
  • Repeat on the left side.
  • Do five repetitions on each side.
  • Hip Abductions

  • Lie on your back with your arms alongside your body and your legs stretched out straight in front of you.
  • Inhale, sliding your right leg along the floor and out to the side.
  • Exhale sliding the leg back to center.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Perform five repetitions on each side.
  • Ankle Pumps

  • Lie on your back with your legs and arms flat on the ground.
  • Inhale and flex the ankle and exhale and extend the ankle 10 times, flexing and pointing the toe.
  • Repeat on each side.
  • Bent Knee Fall Outs

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Slowly lower the right knee toward the floor by letting it fall open to the side.
  • Slowly bring the leg back to center and repeat on the other side.
  • Perform five times on each side.
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