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A blocked lymphatic system can result in swelling, pain, and discomfort.  Surgical procedures like a tummy tuck, breast augmentation or liposuction can disrupt the natural pathways of the lymphatic system causing it to be injured or blocked and not performing is functions as well as it should. In your research before your plastic surgery, you might have come across the terms lymphatic massage or manual lymphatic drainage. This can be a useful tool in your recovery to help  with swelling and achieving your best result.


The lymphatic system has several roles in the human body. One of these jobs is removing excess fluid and waste products found in and around tissues. The lymphatic system gathers unwanted material and moves it through  the body until it is ultimately is removed from the body. A good video on how the lymphatic system works is found on my website.

A certified lymphedema therapist uses a technique called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) to move fluid in a specific path to reuduce swelling and subsequent pain. MLD is very gentle. There is no deep tissue work it should not hurt. A large portion of the work is done well away from the point of incision. The technique encourages the movement of fluid away from swollen areas, to healthy vessels who then eliminate it  from the body. 

Persistent swelling sometimes occurs after surgery.  This swelling may result in fibrotic tissue. Fibrotic tissue looks and feels thick and somewhat leathery.  It is important to reduce the chance of developing fibrotic tissue. In addition to assisting the movement of fluid through manual lymphatic drainage, a therapist can recommend various compression pieces to reduce the fibrotic tissue or stubborn swelling. 

Scar management is also important for successful results. An untreated scar can become thick and even painful just like unchecked swelling. Techniques such as myofascial release and cross friction massage can help to minimize the appearance of a scar.  More information can be found here.

I usually recommend 3-5 sessions of manual lymphatic drainage after a procedure as a starting place. During these sessions, you will be taught self manual lymphatic drainage and given recommendations for additional compression items and/or exercise so that your recovery will continue after your treatment. 

You have taken a big step in feeling like the best version of yourself. Life is about taking risks and in my opinion, you can never be your best self without taking them.

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Want to read more about the research behind MLD and cosmetic procedures? Click here

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