Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a gentle but powerful tool for healing. We’re stimulating the most influential system in the human body, and that process involves detoxification. Changes and shifts should be welcomed and expected after each MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) session but it's less scary when we're informed and understand why they're happening. Let’s unpack what might shake out after your first appointment.
1. You may feel drained after lymphatic drainage.
It takes energy (a lot of it) to detoxify our body, and you may feel tired for a day or two after your first appointment. Your lymphatic system is working faster and harder than it was before you came in for your appointment, and it'll stay stimulated for the next 24-48 hours. Fatigue is by far the most common side effect and clients tend to feel the most "drained" after their very first MLD appointment. We're unclogging the pipes so-to-speak, but don't worry! The intensity of symptoms normally decreases over time with each session as your lymphatic flow improves.
It's important to understand that the lymphatic system itself does not detoxify your body. It's up to your detox organs to actually *eliminate* the things that don't belong, and the elimination process happens in a number of different ways. Maybe it's through our sweat, feces, or urine but regardless of the exit strategy, the process requires energy. Eat nourishing foods, stay hydrated, and get some good sleep before and after your first session so your detox organs have the resources they need to do their job. Teamwork makes the detox dream work!
2. You may see some changes.
It's not uncommon to see changes to your stool, urine, or sweat. This means color, consistency, frequency, and/or odor. Let's look at each detox organ's strategy and the Why? behind some these common changes that occur in the body after MLD.
First up, urine. As the kidneys eliminate excess water and waste products from the body, you will experience frequent urination. The lymphatic system and kidneys work hard to maintain this constant fluid balancing act. Our clients often feel thirsty and are blown away by the natural diuretic effects after lymphatic drainage. When we say "Stay hydrated.", we mean it, and this is why.
Next up, feces. As the liver detoxifies and prepares things for elimination, bile production is stimulated and our colon goes to work packaging things up for the exit. Bile is a digestive fluid that helps us break down the food in our intestines and is typically a greenish-yellow color. It's what makes our poop brown in the first place, so it would make sense that we may see changes here. This is totally normal. WEIRD, but normal.
Lastly, let's talk sweat and skin. Our body odor tells a story of elimination too! Your B.O. may reek after a lymphatic drainage session, here's why. From a size perspective, our skin is our largest detox organ and for some harmful substances (like BPA), excretion via sweat is their preferred exit strategy. This can mean changes to the odor of our sweat. Some of our clients have described it as an "oniony" smell while others say it's almost "metallic", but both are normal.
Other skin related changes may include: getting a breakout or two, feeling a little itchy (rare), or getting a full blown rash/hives (even more rare). Sometimes cold sores pop up for people! It depends on what's being eliminated and how much of it is leaving the body. Anything skin related, you should share with your MLD therapist prior to your next visit on the off chance this does occur. We should always look at symptoms as "messages" vs. "problems" that need to be fixed. Symptoms are how our body communicates with us! Share any and all changes with your therapist, we may be able to help you decipher the code.
3. You may feel emotional!
There is a sacred and kinda spiritual aspect to our lymphatic system. Don't be surprised if some emotional baggage may have shifted during your session. Be gentle with your body after this first session, especially if you have trauma. Give yourself time to integrate, process, and acclimate back into your normal day-to-day routine.
Lymphatic fluid is a conduit for energy, meaning it moves it/our emotions from one place to another. Usually out of our physical tissue because we're not designed to carry this emotional baggage around with us. It's not uncommon for clients to experience an emotional release during a session, but it can also happen later that day, or even the next day...or two.
A Note On Emotions: When we feel stuck and stagnant emotionally, our lymphatics are likely stuck and stagnant as well. This is our body's subtle request for change, it wants us to move our body. When we get things moving and lymphatic fluid is flowing, so follows our emotions. Our hips are basically an emotional junk drawer but we can store trauma anywhere in the body. Be prepared to feel some feels.
4. You may not feel so hot.
We like to think that everything that our lymphatic system picks up actually leaves our body, but unfortunately this isn't always the case. When we can't eliminate what's been picked up by the lymphatic system, it can go right back into our system and make us feel ill. It's not super common but here are some of the most common reasons for why/how this occurs:
Not everyone's body detoxifies the same way. There are genetic mutations (e.g. MTHFR variations) that can make it harder for the liver to move from phase 1 to phase 2 of the detoxification, potentially leading to alterations in folate metabolism and methylation processes. To summarize, it's an enzyme thing. Most people don't know they have these genetic mutations until they've taken a genetics test to find answers to their health complications. It's more common than you may think!
Insider Tip: The more data you have on your unique body, the better you can care for it. There are some great supplements you can take to make the detoxification process easier for your body, but that's for another blog post! If you're interested to learn more now, hop down a rabbit hole on methylation and start learning about it to decide if testing might be right for you. Knowledge is power.
Our detox pathways have to be open. This means that we're sweating often, staying hydrated (replenishing with electrolytes) and urinating ~6-10x per day, and are having at least one complete bowel movement daily. If things aren't able to leave our body as quickly as they are accumulating, we may experience something known as a "Detox Flu" after our MLD session. This is due to the temporary strain that detoxification puts on our body, and can include a low-grade fever, chills, and body aches. It's rare, but it can happen. It all depends on the health of the individual coming in for treatment.
More on supporting our detox pathways: We can't just get a lymphatic drainage session and expect a healthy lymphatic system without making some lifestyle changes. This is a mutual and ongoing effort between both client and therapist as we work together to improve your lymphatic health. What you need for a healthy lymphatic system is effective elimination and optimal organ function through the support of your liver, kidneys, digestive system, skin, and lungs. You also need a balanced nutrient intake with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, proper hydration, regular bowel movements, efficient methylation and elimination, and supporting your lymphatic system daily through movement and stimulation.
I hope this blog post helps you feel informed and more secure about your decision to try manual lymphatic drainage! Yay. Some of the potential side-effects that these sessions entail can deter people from trying it, but you've done your homework, you're ready, and you'll do great! The benefits far outweigh the temporary and typically mild symptoms that occur. On the other side of them, you'll feel golden.
As a certified lymphedema therapist that works with chronic illnesses, I've seen MLD transform many lives. You're in for something really special (and cool) that's completely different from any "massage" you may have had previously. It's gentle and rhythmic, you might even feel like you're underwater or floating during the session. We tend to underestimate lymphatic work because it is so relaxing and subtle, but it's very powerful. We have no doubt that you'll come prepared!
No drain, no gain. ✌️