The use of Lymphatic Drainage Massage after cosmetic surgery

For some patients, lymphatic drainage massage may be a therapy for consideration post-operatively. Lymphedema – or a chronic swelling that can affect the soft tissue in your body – is rare, but it is a risk that is discussed within your consultations. Here Dr Peters explains what your lymphatic system is, its most important functions and, with the help of licensed lymphatic massage therapist Abby Mortimer, how this therapy may play a beneficial role in post-operative recovery.

Lymphatic1 - The use of Lymphatic Drainage Massage after cosmetic surgery 1Deciding to undergo any plastic surgery procedure is a serious decision. Dr Matthew Peters and the Valley Plastic Surgery nurses work together to ensure patients have a good understanding of the recovery process and possible complications that may occur. Personal recovery plans are also discussed to assist in the pre- and post-operative period. This planning will not only facilitate a smoother recovery period, but also help protect the results from the surgical procedure itself.

What is the lymphatic system and what does it do?

“Your lymphatic system is a group of organs, vessels and tissues that protect you from infection and keep a healthy balance of fluids throughout your body,” explains Dr Peters. “In simple terms, you can think of the lymphatic system as spending all day sending fluid in and out of your tissue, and while it’s doing that, it’s also trying to collect any waste – metabolic or otherwise – that builds up in your system.”

3 important functions of the lymphatic system:

There are three primary functions of the lymphatic system: first is the maintenance of fluid balance, second is the facilitation of the absorption of dietary fats from the gastrointestinal tract to the bloodstream for metabolism or storage, and third is the enhancement and facilitation of the immune system.

What is lymphatic drainage massage and what does it involve?

During a lymphatic drainage massage, your practitioner will focus on areas that house your main lymph nodes. Comfortable pressure and long strokes are used to move the lymph fluid in such a way that the organs will be able to effectively eliminate the toxins.

A lymphatic massage, unlike a traditional massage, focuses on improving the lymphatic system in the skin rather than on blood flow to muscles. This style of massage should be carried out by a trained massage therapist who will treat the lymph nodes with slow, regular and low-pressure movements. The massage will cover more than just the affected area and possibly the whole lymphatic system throughout the body, to make sure all areas are drained properly.

Wave-like, rhythmic strokes are used to open and close lymphatics, enabling areas with excess fluid to drain out. A lymphatic massage also stimulates the nervous system, leading to relaxation and may help reduce muscle fatigue, bruising, swelling, and delayed onset muscle soreness.

Are there any benefits of lymphatic drainage massage?

Lymphatic drainage massages may benefit a range of reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. They are commonly recommended for cosmetic surgery procedures such as abdominoplasty, massive weight loss procedures, breast surgeries and liposuction. All these procedures may disrupt the skin’s lymphatic channels that are fundamental to recovery. New lymphatic channels take time to form, and lymphatic massage may be able to improve this process.

Scientific research has preliminarily shown that lymphatic drainage massage can benefit patients undergoing a variety of aesthetic procedures, and adjunctive therapies that promote patient recovery are paramount to improving post-operative outcomes and enhancing a patient’s satisfaction and aesthetic desires.1

Lymphatic2 - The use of Lymphatic Drainage Massage after cosmetic surgery 2

Q&A WITH MASSAGE THERAPIST ABBY MORTIMER:

Does it hurt?

“Lymphatic drainage massage is typically not painful. However, since the body is inflamed post-operatively you may feel some discomfort. In the end, we are confident the benefits of your drainage will outweigh any discomfort you may feel.”

How many sessions are recommended?

“Most patients will have two lymphatic drainage sessions per week for 4 weeks post-operatively. Ideally, I would also try to plan for 2 or 3 sessions pre-operatively, to prepare the body for surgery. Think of the pre-op lymphatic drainage massage as flushing waste out and giving yourself a head-start on the healing.”

When can I begin lymphatic drainage massage sessions?

“Always listen to your surgeon’s advice as to when to begin massage post-operatively, however, as a general guide, we can begin gentle lymphatic drainage massage within a few days post-operatively.”

Can I have lymphatic drainage massage with a drain in?

“Yes. I frequently provide lymphatic drainage massage to patients with open drains. I have undertaken special training, am extremely conscious of the need for heightened hygiene, I won’t use oils or any substances that could interfere with the incision sites, wounds or drains, and can work alongside the surgeons and their nursing teams for any additional guidance on individual patients. It’s important to note that it can be beneficial if we can drain excess fluid out of the body whilst the drains are open.”

Contraindications:

“Once again, we urge patients to follow the guidance of their surgeon but also be forthcoming with your massage therapist as to any of the following contra-indications:

  • We will not perform massage on any patient with an active infection. Undertaking massage on a patient with an active infection runs the risk of multiplying the infection.
  • A vein disease such as thrombosis.
  • Certain heart, valve and circulatory conditions.
  • Malignant tumours.

What should I be looking for in a lymphatic massage therapist?

“It’s important to ensure your therapist has obtained a high level of training in the modality of lymphatic drainage massage, alongside a great deal of experience in massaging post-operative patients. This is a very different style, with very different objectives to remedial massage and it is critical your therapist has had experience and training in treating people with incision sites, drains and post-operative needs.

“Ask your therapist about the other surgeons they have worked with, and what type of procedures those patients have had; this will also give you guidance as to whether the therapist is well-versed in treating situations similar to yours.”

Abby Mortimer is the owner and founder of NuVue Body Sculpting, a Brisbane-based clinic that specialises in post-operative lymphatic drainage massage and wood therapy. https://nuvuebodysculpting.com.au

REFERENCES:

“The Utility of Lymphatic Massage in Cosmetic Procedures.” Marxen, Shauley et al. PMC10045879 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10045879/