A brief history of The Lymphatic System

Discovered 389 years ago and we still don`t understand it!!!

Lymphatic System 17th to 21st Century

The first historical discovery of the lymphatic system was documented in 1622 which refers to the findings of `milky veins` in a dog after digestion. Italian physician Gaspard Asselli (1581 – 1626) had found `chlye’.

Six years later during 1628 the eminent English physician to King James I, William Harvey, M.D (1578 –1657) and one of the most prestigious doctors in London, published his latest findings accurately describing how blood circulates around the body and how the heart is central to this process he had discovered a circulatory system.

Discoveries and innovation between physicians was furiously competitive in the early days of unknown human anatomy. However, not until just over twenty years later in

1650 did John Pecquet (1622-1672) discover the lacteal vessels and the flow of lymph fluid in the largest lymphatic vessel into the vena cava. He had of course revealed the `Pecquets cistern` or as it is know today the `Cisterna Chyli`.

The biggest revelation and true discoverer of the lymphatic system was Swedish anatomist Olauf Rudbeck (1630 – 1708) who declared that the lymphatic system was actually a complete and definite system within the human body and compared this to the venous circulatory system. Breakthrough!

This self- education of lymphatics was at last starting to show in Alexander of Winiwarter from Belgium (1848-1910) who was the first medical practitioner to use manual lymph drainage in hospitals for relieving lymphoedema symptoms.

Add 20 or so years and the first International Lymphatic Society was formed. The Founder and president Fredrick.P.Millard (1878 – 1951) coined the phrase “lymphatic drainage” suggesting different techniques would affect the lymph flow. His work and discoveries were 10 years ahead of Emil Vodder Ph.D., M.T (1896 – 1986) and Estrid Vodder (1898 – 1996),

 In 1932, whilst working as massage therapists in Cannes on the French Riviera observed a common ailment through many treatments and observations of their patients, recording swollen lymph nodes in their necks which coincided with chronic sinusitis. At the time (over 75 years ago) treating the lymphatic system was unthinkable for massage therapists, or even for physicians. The general view was to ignore this system and to take no notice, whatsoever!

Emil Vodder developed the first ever known massage technique MLD - Manual Lymphatic Drainage, and his method first became known to the general public when he published his findings and his methods became recognised as effective treatments for ailments relating to lymphatic system in 1935.

Fast forward 30 years later in 1969 physician Johannes Asdonk scientifically used and tested the Vodder technique establishing the first training school for MLD in Germany. In the first lymphatic study, 347 years after it’s first discovery, 20,000 patients were tried and tested.

Because of this success, further clinics opened. In the early 1980`s Professors Michael Foëldi M.D and Ethel Foëldi advanced to another level by combining techniques known today as CDT, Complete Decongestive Therapy in the treatment of Lymphoedema. Their dedication and practice grew, incorporating specific training alongside Klose Training and Consulting and their methods continue to be used today amongst worldwide Lymphoedema practitioners, myself included.

Also during the 1980`s and 90`s in America, Dr Bruno Chickly a member of the International Society of Lymphology created Lymph Drainage Therapy, LDT.  His work has incorporated adapted techniques to `work the lymphatic system`. He is eminent in the fight to understand lymphatics and sourcing successful and faster treatments for Lymphoedema. Manual Lymphatic Mapping, MLM, differs from CDP/CDT as it creates alternative pathways for lymph and interstitial fluid. This safe and non-invasive technique more accurately helps identify alternate pathways in lymphoedema patients.


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