A long time ago I made the mistake of watching some YouTube videos purporting to teach Dr Vodder's MLD. Some of them would have made great how-not-to-videos for the classroom, and I was quite disturbed by the number of chats claiming that you should feel nauseous or ill somehow after lymph drainage. There was even an insistence in some comments that it hasn't worked unless you feel dreadful.
This is the exact opposite of what I have learned and observed in nearly 25 years of performing MLD.
If you are receiving Dr Vodder's MLD as taught, then you should not have any headache or nausea type symptoms afterwards. For people with complex presentations there may be a sense of lethargy after the treatment as the sympatholytic effect reduces stress activities in the body and energy is diverted to housekeeping and recovery tasks, and this is usually followed by an increase in perceived energy. In my observation adverse responses after MLD are caused by either dehydration, presence of co-morbidities which have not been accounted for in the treatment plan, or bad technique.
Every MLD treatment should be book-ended by a drink of water, and this was a stipulation in my clinic. That's because one of the main purposes and effects of MLD is to balance the fluid environment in the connective tissue compartment. The Vodder method of MLD both increases lymph-motoricity in the proximal collector vessels and lymph formation at the initial lymph plexus. This is like turning up the vacuum cleaner that is always quietly suctioning the lymph obligatory load out of the connective tissue spaces.
However, when you are dehydrated hyaluronic acid molecules in the loose connective tissue trap water molecules, holding them in the connective tissue bath to prevent your tissue cells from becoming dehydrated. So if you are not properly hydrated, the action of MLD is at cross purposes to the protective function of the tissue. Tissue balance will not be restored as intended, and any symptoms of dehydration - typically headache and nausea - will be amplified. More water than usual should be consumed for one or two days after MLD to support the lasting effects in lymphatic activation and allow free movement of fluid through the connective tissue bath.
If symptoms are reported after MLD my first question is "did you drink the extra water I recommended?" In most cases the answer is no.
2. You have an autoimmune condition
On very rare occasions, people who have an autoimmune disease will react badly to MLD and experience an exacerbation of their symptoms. This is a response within the individual and is not related to any specific disease. All autoimmune conditions are a relative contraindication and the tolerance to MLD must be assessed on a case by case basis. As we also don't know which of our clients will react this way, we must be careful not to overdo it on a first treatment. If no adverse reactions occur 24 - 48 hours after a short test treatment, then treatment length can be gradually increased over the next 2 or 3 sessions.
The complex interactions in autoimmune diseases mean that the reason for these rare reactions are not well understood, but are likely to be related to the - usually beneficial - influence of MLD in increasing lymph flow and enhancing immune system interactions. It is therefore, the unique immune interactions occurring in each person that is responsible for this type of adverse reaction, so if you have a diagnosed autoimmune condition please make sure to tell your MLD therapist about it.
3. The MLD was applied badly
The original Dr Vodder technique is characterised by a very light technique performed with a slow rhythm creating specific shearing forces in the superficial tissues. These precise techniques increase lymph-motoricity, effectively increasing the action of the drain to remove harmful elements to the lymph nodes where they are processed and only harmless components end up returned with the lymph at the subclavian vein. If MLD is applied too quickly, the relaxation phase in the co-ordinated pumping along the chain of lymphangions is overridden and the angions may spasm closed, reducing the flow of lymph. If MLD is applied too firmly this increases the tissue pressure and allows elements usually destined for removal by the lymph system to be forced back into the blood circulation instead. These mistakes often go together and create a much stronger circulatory effect than is desirable in MLD, with vaguely unpleasant symptoms similar to those experienced sometimes when someone has their first ever deep tissue massage.
4. You were already sick but didn't know it.
Think of MLD as accelerating things your body does naturally anyway. So if you are coming down with the flu or a head cold when you have MLD, those symptoms will be hurried up and you will soon feel much worse. It's usually better to cancel if you feel yourself coming down with something. This acceleration of natural processes can also be an issue if alcohol or recreational drugs are taken too close to the treatment and a 'hang-over' stage may be felt not long after the treatment. The ideal time for MLD is at least a half hour after any food or vigorous exercise, and with time for a 20 or 30 minute rest afterwards. Timing your MLD treatments with these considerations in mind will ensure you get the most out of your investment in having them.
And remember to be well hydrated!