After surgery massage can be an essential form of post-operative treatment. A person can undergo surgery for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common types of surgery include cosmetic surgery or removal of lymph nodes due to cancer.
After surgery, you may often experience pain, inflammation, scars and a condition called lymphedema.
Lymphedema occurs after the removal of lymph nodes causing damage or obstruction to the lymphatic system which increases swelling and pain.
A manual lymphatic drainage massage can help after surgery by encouraging increased healing, stimulating your lymphatic system to work optimally and breaking scar tissue.
Our massage therapist at Essential Feeling uses effective techniques to help reduce negative symptoms after surgery and this is why manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is recommended by surgeons.
Benefits of massage after surgery
*A massage can often be used to treat scars.
Scars are formed when damage occurs to the internal or external tissues of the body. As part of the natural healing process of your body, an accumulation of collagen fibres, fibrous connective tissue occurs, resulting in scars forming.
Scars have a different texture and appearance than natural body tissues and can often restrict movement.
As a scar can affect a person physically and mentally, symptoms of stress, anxiety and pain can also simultaneously increase.
Massage after surgery helps reduce scars by decomposing, loosening and realigning collagen fibres which have less elasticity than natural body tissues and are placed in a disordered position through the muscle fibres, which can increase restriction and pain.
Massage increases the temperature of collagen fibres thus encouraging them to soften and loosen. Softened and loosened collagen fibres allow you to realign to match the position of the natural muscle fibres and tissues of the body.
Loosening and realignment of collagen fibres reduces restriction, as well as the appearance of scars.
*Stress is common after surgery.
Stress can be both physical and mental.
Physical stress occurs inside the muscles of the body after damage caused by surgery leading to muscle weakness and tension build-up.
Mental stress increases due to lack of movement and pain that occurs after surgery.
Massage can help reduce stress after surgery by increasing healing and encouraging physical and mental relaxation by improving blood and lymphatic flow.
Improved blood circulation provides muscles and tissues with the oxygen and essential nutrients needed to repair and reform damaged muscles and tissues. Improving the lymphatic flow increases the removal of metabolic waste accumulated in a muscle that slows down the healing process. Increasing healing helps to increase muscle strength and reduces tension.
As pain and tension relieves, physical relaxation improves creating faster healing. A reduction in pain and tension increases relaxation and thus reduces mental stress.
After surgery, you may experience acute pain.
Acute pain occurs due to damage to fibres and muscle tissues and can include aching, acute or stabbing pains, and can restrict movement and increase stress and tension.
*Massage reduces acute pain by improving recovery and relieving tension.
Recovery may be slow due to the lack of available nutrients for tissues. Blood flow is what contains oxygen and nutrients essential to improve recovery. A massage creates friction between the skin and fingers, which promotes an increase in blood flow to the area.
An increase in blood flow leads to an increase in oxygen and nutrients. An increase in oxygen and nutrients speeds up the healing process, improves recovery and thereby reduces acute pain.
Tension occurs when the muscles are tightened to avoid further damage. When the blood flow increases during a massage, the temperature of the muscles also rises. Increasing the temperature of the muscles promotes relaxation of muscle fibres. Relaxing muscles relieves tension and further reduces acute pain.
What are the physiological effects of receiving a postoperative massage?
There is a range of physiological effects that occur during a massage after surgery. Some of the most common physiological effects that occur include increased:
Lymphatic drainage is a common physiological effect that occurs during a massage after surgery as it removes excess fluids and metabolic waste from your body through the lymphatic system.
A frequent condition caused by surgery is lymphedema (lymphodoema). Lymphedema occurs when there is damage or obstruction in the lymphatic vessels which carry lymphatic fluids containing metabolic waste and excess fluids to remove them from your body.
When lymphatic vessels are damaged or blocked, lymphatic fluids can not pass through the vessels. This accumulation of fluids creates swelling.
Swelling can be sensitive to touch and often restricts movement. A manual lymphatic drainage massage after surgery stimulates lymphatic drainage.
Increased lymphatic drainage promotes an increase in lymphatic flow. Increased lymphatic flow increases the rate of metabolic waste and excess fluids that are removed from the body. It improves the overall disposal of metabolic waste and excess fluids reduces swelling and thus reduces lymphoedema and a better postoperative result.
*Postoperative massage can increase the elasticity of the tissue.
Tissue elasticity is the ability of a muscle to reach its full length without restrictions. Low elasticity of tissues can lead to restriction of movements, increased pain and decreased relaxation. Massage increases the elasticity of tissues by increasing muscle temperature. An increase in blood flow occurs during a massage encouraging the muscle temperature to rise. Increasing muscle temperature increases the flexibility of elastic fibres inside the muscles.
Increased flexibility allows muscles to stretch and loosen. Allowing a muscle to stretch and loosen increases relaxation and thus increases tissue elasticity. This also encourages you to move around more, which is important for lymphatic drainage.
*Increased vasodilation often occurs during a massage after surgery.
Vasodilation is the place where the muscles bordering the blood vessels relax, which allows the vessels to expand and approach the surface of the skin. Pink staining that occurs on the skin is often a sign of vasodilation occurred.
When the blood vessels expand, this allows an increase in blood to flow through them which then increases the availability of blood reaching damaged muscles and tissues. Increased blood availability provides muscles and tissues with oxygen and nutrients, which allows increased healing and rapid recovery.
Breast tissue scars
Scars are a common and known form of fibrosis and often occur following breast surgery, particularly for removal of cancer.
Most people with breast cancer undergo a surgery, which affects the lymphatic circulation in several ways.
*Surgical scar tissue can form a barricade to normal lymphatic circulation, creating stasis. When they remove lymph nodes, this can create more congestion.
There are many factors that can affect surgical outcomes:
*type and extent of surgery
*type of surgeon
*whether there are other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy that may aggravate wound healing and scars.
But the skin and underlying tissues of your chest and armpits will often feel like they’re getting harder and “stuck together”.
For instance, it’s not uncommon for clients to notice several “ropes” between their armpit and elbow which make it tricky to raise your arm.
Your hospital therapist has recommended special pads with padded cherry holes inside to wear besides their foam padded garments to speed up the softening of fabrics in your chest and armpits.
By combining this with after surgery massage styles including myofascial release, clients feel relief from the tightness and traction of surgical fibrosis, radiation and cord in the upper right part of the body.
It’s also common for clients who completed their cancer treatment 10, 20 and even 30 years ago who are referred for lymphedema.
Although early treatment always gives the best results as it can prevent the progression of lymphedema and fibrosis, I want to give patients hope. Treatment at any stage can improve symptoms, help your body cure surgical, radiation-induced and cable-induced fibrosis, and empower patients to gain the knowledge and tools needed to self-manage symptoms.
How long after surgery can you get a massage?
Your doctor will usually advise that you come for MLD massage therapy as soon as practical following your surgery. Often within a few days.
What is a post-op massage?
A post-op massage is any massage style which follows a surgery. Often this is manual lymphatic, but if we’re looking to improve scarring as a result of an incision then this could involve some deep work or myofascial release. Your therapist will always advise you at the time of your appointment when we see you, but we may also discuss this with you on the phone prior to your session.
Does massage help after surgery?
Absolutely. The sooner you come after your medical procedure the better the results. Many clients worry about the level of pressure that they will have to ensure as a recent patient. But for instance, MLD is a gentle procedure which eases rather than causes pain and discomfort.
What should you avoid after a massage?
This is best advised by your surgeon in their aftercare advice because everyone is different, but broadly, take it easy. If you’ve had abdominal surgery, then don’t start doing sit-ups. Your body needs as much energy as possible to heal. Give it the best chance to fix the post-operative damage by taking some therapeutic down time. And taking the appropriate massaging.
Find out more about after surgery massage.