The Benefits of Lymph Drainage Therapy After Body Contouring

Written by Timothy McGee, MD, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon on September 25, 2020 2 Comments

lymph drainage therapy

Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT), sometimes referred to as Manual Lymph Massage, is a specialized massage technique that helps stimulate lymphatic flow through the body. LDT is performed in a massage treatment room and is very relaxing. Because stimulating the lymph activates the parasympathetic nervous system, you’ll feel especially calm and may even fall asleep during lymph drainage therapy. LDT is an essential part of the healing process after surgery, for both body and mind.

Lymph Drainage Therapy is often recommended after undergoing both non-surgical and surgical body contouring procedures as it can speed up healing and enhance procedure results. We often recommend manual lymph massage for patients who undergo CoolSculpting, Liposuction, Tummy Tuck (abdominoplasty), and various lift procedures.

Lymph Drainage Therapy vs Regular Massage  

Manual lymph massage is quite different from deep tissue massage. The gentle technique prevents inflammation, reduces swelling, and improves bruising. Regular massage often does the opposite. By increasing circulation towards an area of soreness, a typical massage can promote excess swelling and bruising. With LDT, a gentle touch encourages fluids away from the surgical site, and back towards the lymph nodes for processing.

Why Undergo Lymph Drainage Therapy 

Liposuction, CoolSculpting, Butt Lift, and other body contouring procedures can damage lymph vessels. This causes inflammation and a buildup of fluid in the areas targeted by surgery. Lymphatic massage guides this fluid back into the lymphatic circulatory system.

The lymph system works to maintain a healthy balance of blood and fluid in the body. A properly flowing lymph system significantly reduces the risk of fibrosis, a hardening of the tissue that occurs when inflammation is left unchecked. Lymph Drainage Therapy can restore functionality to damaged lymph vessels to reduce inflammation, pain, and scarring while simultaneously enhancing procedure results.

Lymph Drainage Therapy Can Speed Up Recovery

Lymph Drainage Therapy can speed up your post-surgery recovery. A properly circulating lymph system activates the immune system. Lymph carries white blood cells throughout the body to help you heal and to defend you from infection. The lymphatic system safeguards the body from pathogens, microorganisms, and toxins.

Lymph Drainage Therapy Can Minimize Pain

Many patients find that LDT also helps reduce their pain. Pain reduction occurs as circulation increases and swelling goes down. The light touch of LDT triggers a relaxation response in the body and soothes the mind for added pain relief.

Lymph Drainage Therapy Can Help Prevent Scarring 

Not only does lymph drainage therapy reduce the risk of fibrosis, but it can decrease scarring and improve skin texture. Scarring occurs when the body works ‘too hard’ to carry new connective tissue to the area. Circulating lymph brings immune cells to the area which clear away damaged cells and dead tissue. This helps the body heal more efficiently.

LDT Can Enhance Results

You may notice that after surgery, your skin feels lumpy or uneven. This unevenness is caused by a buildup of blood and fluid in areas where fat was removed. LDT works to even out these areas by balancing fluids in the body.

If it has been more than six months since your surgery, and you’re still feeling hardness or lumps, you should contact your doctor to make sure you have not developed fibrosis or a build-up of fluid called a seroma.

LDT for Total Body Healing

Lymph Drainage Therapy may be particularly helpful for those who are experiencing excess swelling that doesn’t seem to be improving, or for those who experience swelling away from the surgical site, such as the ankles.

The benefits of LDT are applicable even if it’s been one month of more since your surgery. Benefits of lymph drainage therapy include a reduction in headaches, cellulite, chronic fatigue and insomnia. Lymph is not only integral to the immune system, but it plays a role in the absorption of nutrients and vitamins from the small intestine. LDT contributes to total body health.

A Typical LDT Treatment and Schedule

During a LDT session, your massage therapist will have you start on your back, face up. This soothing massage applies light palpitations and rolling motions to the areas of the lymph nodes. This includes the throat, upper chest, abdomen and groin. Regardless of where you had your surgery, the massage targets your lymph nodes first. LDT sessions typically last for 60 to 90 minutes.

Lymph drainage therapy can begin as soon as 24 hours after your procedure. In the first 7 days after your surgery it’s possible to get lymphatic massage daily. You can reduce this frequency to every other day in the second week, and then discontinue as you’re ready. Treatments are valuable for as long as you enjoy them, or until your swelling goes down. You won’t do damage by getting too many lymphatic massages.

Self-Massage vs Trained Professionals

While it may not be as relaxing as giving yourself over to the care of a trained professional, you can do lymphatic massage at home. Massage over your compression garment for at least 5 minutes several times per day. Your doctor will show you how to massage in the direction of your lymphatics. For example, after sculpting in the abdomen, you’ll begin your massage underneath your chest and work towards the lymph nodes in your groin.

While DIY massage can be effective, a trained professional is better able to recognize the particulars of your body, and exactly how your lymph is flowing. Experienced massage therapists work with a technique called Manual Lymphatic Mapping in which they identify the exact pathways through your body that the lymph prefers, guiding drainage to those specific areas.

Timothy McGee, MD

Dr. McGee has been practicing plastic surgery for more than 18 years in all areas of the field, including cosmetic surgery and reconstructive breast and facial surgery. Dr. McGee is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Surgery. He has numerous hospital affiliations in the Round Rock and greater Austin areas and is a member of the American Society of plastic Surgeons, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, American College of Surgeons and Austin Smiles.

2 Responses to “The Benefits of Lymph Drainage Therapy After Body Contouring”

  1. Avatar Wanda says:

    I can co-sign this, lymphatic massage really helped my recovery speed up. I was experiencing some discomfort and pain following lipo (abdomen). My doctor recommended it but it sounded backward to me, like it would make it hurt more. I was totally wrong! The message was not too bad and it reduced all my discomfort.

  2. Avatar Braden Bills says:

    I can confirm that massage really helps after lipo. The first couple of times it was a bit uncomfortable as my treatment area was sore but it did seem to make recovery faster.

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