The Benefits of Manual Lymph Drainage Massage Before and After Surgery

by Carlie Hickson, RMT

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) can be an effective treatment modality and offer many benefits for those both preparing for or recovering from a surgery. This includes many different types of surgeries. The following are some examples of surgeries that may benefit from this type treatment, but is not limited to what I have listed.

  • Orthopaedic

  • Plastic and/or reconstructive (Breast augmentation, reduction, liposuction, facial reconstruction etc.)

  • Dental

  • Gynecological

  • Abdominal

  • Caesarean sections

  • Post-mastectomy

  • Head/neck/ Ear, nose and throat

  • Ophthalmological (Eyes)

  • Joint replacement

  • Post-trauma

** For a more detailed explanation of the lymphatic system and what MLD is, please see my previous blog post.

Before Surgery

Receiving MLD treatment prior to a surgery helps to prepare the area of the body about to undergo an operation. It does this by stimulating the lymph vessels of the lymphatic system to remove cellular waste products, bacteria, viruses, excess proteins, excess fluid and any other unwanted substances from the spaces between your cells; essentially cleaning the tissues. The lymph vessels then move the unwanted substances to lymph nodes where it is cleaned and filtered by the immune system.

Though this process happens naturally (the lymph vessels pump lymph fluid at a resting rate of about 3-8 times per minute), receiving MLD treatment can stimulate the pulsation of lymph vessels to contract up to about 30 times per minute thus accelerating this natural process. This optimizes the cellular environment in the area of the body being treated.

The effects of MLD treatment may reduce the risk of post-surgical complications such as infection, excessive swelling, bruising and scar tissue that can later restrict mobility.

An additional benefit of receiving MLD massage prior to surgery is the deeply relaxing effect it can have on the nervous system. By helping to shift the nervous system into a more relaxed state, receiving MLD can support the entire body in adjusting to the physical and traumatic changes caused by an operation.

Three or more consecutive treatments before surgery has shown to yield the best results, but one or two treatments is still beneficial.

After Surgery

And then comes the swelling after surgery… While some swelling is very normal and a necessary part of the inflammatory healing process, excessive or prolonged swelling can become problematic leading to longer healing times, increased pain, increased risk of infection, persistent swelling, and can adversely affect scar formation causing unwanted adhesions and decreased range of motion.

MLD has shown to have great success in treating post-surgical swelling as it can address these issues. After surgery the lymphatic and immune systems are working overtime to repair and cleanse the tissues. Much like prior to surgery, MLD is an important and beneficial treatment modality as it increases localized circulation of fresh blood (containing nutrients necessary for tissue healing) and supports and stimulates the lymphatic system in flushing unwanted cellular debris and excess fluid at a faster rate. Therefore, healing times may be accelerated, adverse scar formation minimized, decreases the risk of infection, and swelling, bruising and pain may be reduced. This allows for patients to rehabilitate more efficiently and effectively improving functional integration back into their daily lives.

An additional benefit of having MLD after surgery is the powerful effect it can have in calming the entire nervous system. When the body shifts into this more relaxed state, it is given a chance to activate its natural healing mechanisms.

Because MLD is such a gentle treatment, it can be received within days of surgery. Treatment frequency after surgery will depend on the operation and the patient. Multiple consecutive treatments may be necessary in the first week or so after surgery, with treatments decreasing in frequency over the following weeks.

And if you’re reading this over a month after your surgery, MLD and scar tissue massage may still be very beneficial for you!

If you have any questions or want more information not covered in this post, please don’t hesitate to send Carlie an email: [email protected]

Carlie Hickson is a Registered Massage Therapist & Certified Manual Lymph Drainage Practitioner, they offer appointments at Local Health Integrative Clinic on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays Click here to book an appointment with Carlie.