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Why Manual Lymphatic Drainage is Important After Plastic Surgery

July 9th, 2018 Share

At Visage Clinic, we believe firmly in lymphatic drainage as a way to speed up recovery after plastic surgery.  All of our patients are offered multiple sessions, and we also see patients from other clinics for post-op treatment as only a few places in Toronto offer this service.

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) was developed in the 1930’s by Emil and Estrid Vodder (the Vodder method) and is widely prescribed by physicians in Europe, Brazil, the United States and Canada. It aids in removing lymphatic buildup from the body through gentle massage.

Benefits of MLD

  • Removes metabolic waste, excess water, toxins, bacteria, large protein molecules, and foreign substances from the tissues.
  • Alleviates pain through its gentle, rhythmical, precise hand movements.
  • Relaxes the sympathetic nervous system, thus helping to relieve stress.
  • Supports and enhances the action of the immune system.
  • Helps the body to heal more quickly from surgical trauma.
  • Minimizes scar formation by increasing blood flow.

Why Post-Op Swelling Happens

When considering the benefits of MLD, it helps to look at the underlying causes of swelling and lymphatic buildup happens after plastic surgery.

Artery and Capillary Fluids

When fluid in the arteries flows into smaller capillaries on its way back through the body, some fluid returns to the heart directly through the veins.However, some fluids come out of the vessels (extravasation) and pour into the surrounding tissues (interstitium). After surgery, this fluid increases as a healing mechanism, bringing cells, nutrients and proteins to the body.

Inflammatory Healing Fluids

The fluid is then picked up by the lymphatic system, which produces and carries lymph, a yellow fluid that flows through a complex network of vessels called the lymphatics. These vessels drain into nodes, which can be found primarily in the groin, axilla (underarm), and neck regions. Lymphatics are also important in fighting infection and removing toxins.

Added Fluids

Many procedures involve liposuction and its tumescence solution, where the plastic surgeon will infiltrate the tissues with a few liters of an adrenaline and local anesthetic-containing solution, adding to the amount of fluids in the soft tissues.

Severance of Lymphatic Vessels

Lymphatics also get severed during surgery. The more “injury” to an area, such as after a tummy tuck with liposuction, the more swelling and lymph in tissues. In some surgeries, such as abdominoplasty, where skin is lifted from underlying abdominal muscles, lymphatics must be cut and must re-establish continuity and grow together before they can remove the fluid from the area. If this does not happen fast enough and lymph hangs around, you have what is known as a seroma.

In surgeries where lymph nodes are removed for disease, as occurs after breast cancer mastectomy, injury to lymph nodes and lymphatics can lead to accumulation of fluid within the limb or area of injury, a condition known as lymphedema (swelling due to lymph).  MLD and compression garments are often recommended.

Why Manual Draining Matters

Unlike the circulatory system, which is pumped by your heart, the lymph system has no pump. The pressure from your blood vessels and movement from your muscles push the lymphatic fluid around, but this takes time.

With this in mind, it is easier to understand how and why therapeutic MLD is performed and why it is important in recovery.

How It Works

Basically, MLD is a type of massage that uses light pressure and long, rhythmic strokes to increase lymphatic and blood flow to the affected areas.  The soft nature of this is also important post-surgery as pain and tenderness are still present.  Deeper body massage can follow 4 to 8 weeks post-surgery once the tenderness has subsided.

Lymphatic drainage massage may also improve your skin texture by reducing swelling, puffiness, and blotches, giving you clean, healthy pores, speeding up healing in scar tissue and therefore improving the appearance of stretch marks, and helping to reduce cellulite.

The MLD Experience

Lymphatic drainage massage usually takes place in a heated room, since warmth is an important factor in increasing lymphatic flow. Your therapist will usually carry out lymphatic drainage massage with you on a massage table, while you’re draped in discreetly placed towels.

Our therapist will usually work her way up from your feet. Lymphatic drainage massage uses very light pressure, as well as long, gentle, rhythmic strokes and soft pumping movements in the direction of the lymph nodes. For smaller areas of cosmetic surgery, such as the nose after rhinoplasty or face after a facelift, patients can massage themselves, but for larger areas, help from a massage therapist trained in lymphatic drainage is well worth any cost.

How MLD Can Help You

Lymphatic drainage massage benefits include enhanced quality of skin, particularly on the face. Skin looks more youthful and alive when its cells are bathed in fluid, as when the lymph is flowing. That puffiness you might experience beneath your eyes after a hard night or a long cry? It’s lymphatic drainage that solves these kinds of problems. For all of these reasons, lymphatic drainage massage can be very important for those who need it.

Is it painful? In short, the answer is no. When people hear the word “massage”, they often think of deep tissue work. For clients who have just had plastic surgery, the last thing they imagine that they want to have is a massage on their swollen, sensitive and often bruised bodies. However, MLD is pain-free, offers tremendous healing benefits, and believe it or not, it is actually quite relaxing.

Interested in learning more about MLD and its role in plastic surgery recovery? Please contact us to request a consultation. You can also call our plastic surgery office at  (416) 929-9800 (Yorkville) to schedule an appointment.