Although breast augmentation is an extremely popular procedure in the United States, breast reduction is becoming increasingly common. Women are seeking to have the reduction procedures performed to eliminate chronic pain or emotional discomfort caused by the size of their breasts. However, traditional methods typically resulted in significant scarring. Since the 1980s, liposuction — alone or in conjunction with other methods — has been used for breast reduction in thousands of well-documented cases that resulted in excellent outcomes. In spite of the efficacy of the liposuction procedure, patients are often left with swelling and discomfort from excess lymphatic fluids that have pooled in their breasts. Manual lymphatic drainage can help reduce the swelling and improve the patient’s comfort.
What Is Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
Before exploring the topic of manual lymphatic drainage in greater detail, it might be helpful to review the purpose of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system consists of a network of organs and tissues that help the body shed waste and toxins. However, its primary function is to carry lymph, a colorless liquid that contains the white blood cells critical to fighting infections, to all parts of the body. The method of transportation is a network of lymphatic vessels similar to the capillaries and veins that circulate blood. Lymphatic vessels carry lymph to the lymph nodes, which serve as filters. The human body contains several hundred lymph nodes; some are near the surface of the skin, but others are located much deeper.
Although blood circulates in an uninterrupted loop throughout the body, lymph only flows upward in the direction of the neck. Once the lymph nears the clavicles, veins re-introduce the lymph into the system. However, while the heart pumps blood throughout the body, the lymphatic system must rely on the movements of muscles and joints to pump it back to the neck. Since the breasts have no joints or muscles of their own, any lymph that pools in the breast can become trapped.
After liposuction, many patients will notice some lumpiness in their breasts. This is due to inflammation as well as trauma from the extraction of the fatty tissue. The surgical instruments used can create channels and tunnels that allow leftover fat and lymph to collect. To counter the swelling and discomfort, the lymph needs to be gently returned to the lymph passages.
Manual lymphatic drainage is a massage technique that is often recommended by cosmetic surgeons after a liposuction-based breast reduction procedure. The technique may help provide short-term relief from swelling and discomfort, but it may also help prevent hardening of the trapped fat and fluid that can become permanent.
Although every case is unique, most doctors recommend that patients begin receiving manual lymphatic drainage treatments no later than five days after their liposuction procedure. Early treatment is often the key to obtaining the best results in the least time. Some patients experience noticeable improvement after two or three treatments, but most will need five or six sessions to eliminate most of the lymph and achieve the greatest reduction in swelling.
At Therapie, we employ the technique developed by our founder, Sally Spurgeon. Sally launched Therapie in 2007 to use her experience with and knowledge of various massage techniques to assist others looking to find freedom from chronic pain. The following year, Sally received unwelcome news from her doctor — she had breast cancer. Surgeries and complications followed that left her in pain and with a reduced range of motion. She also encountered many women who were still suffering from range-of-motion limitations and chronic pain years after they underwent a mastectomy. Most of them believed that such problems were normal for virtually everyone who survived breast cancer.
Drawing on her experience, Sally sought bodywork and massage techniques that would help her resume her normal activities and alleviate her pain. The Spurgeon Method was the result. This breast massage technique has helped many women following breast reduction, liposuction, breast augmentation and other types of breast surgery. Sally’s method has earned approval from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and classes are available to train health care providers and massage therapists in the technique. Sally continues to work with physicians and others in the health care industry on the ways that lymphatic drainage techniques and therapeutic massage can help many patients achieve better outcomes.