Does lymphatic drainage help after plastic surgery?

Many of our patients have very large procedures, and after these they can experience of build up of fluid in or around the operative area. This fluid is the body’s normal response to trauma and is to be expected after any surgery.

While the body (with the help of small drain tubes, for some procedures) usually eliminates the fluid during the first few weeks or months after surgery, most people will experience some residual swelling after procedures such as abdominoplasty, facelift, breast reduction, brachioplasty and breast augmentation. Some patients are prone to more swelling, or can experience delayed swelling after returning to work or physical activity.

If persistent or recurrent swelling is troubling you, lymphatic drainage massage can help in the months following surgery. Anecdotally, we find that patients who undergo procedures such as abdominoplasty, liposuction or brachioplasty and proactively treat their oedema, can shorten their recovery time.

Kangaroo Point based therapist Kaori Langley (pictured) specialises in lymphatic drainage and says it is “excellent for quicker and smoother recovery from injuries and surgeries”.

Ms Langley explains that through the pumping and stretching effect on the lymph vessels, lymphatic drainage “stimulates the contraction of smooth muscles in lymph vessels, helping to move the lymph forward and drain the connective tissue”. She also notes that the therapy is calming and relaxing to receive, and patients often feel a sense of wellbeing after treatment.

lymphatic drainage

When can I start lymphatic drainage after surgery?

If your lymphatic drainage is being performed by a qualified therapist with experience in post operative oedema, you can start gentle lymphatic massage in the areas adjacent to your procedure in the second week after surgery. Lymphatic drainage should not be performed on or directly adjacent to scars until at least 6 weeks after surgery.

Is it essential for me to have lymphatic drainage after massage?

No, but it is an option you might wish to consider after surgery. The vast majority of patients find their swelling reduces on its own without intervention, through a healthy lifestyle/diet and following their post operative instructions closely, which includes limiting activity and diligent use of compression garments. In the hands of an experienced and qualified therapist, however, lymphatic drainage can only be a positive contribution to your healing, and we are supportive of patients pursuing this therapy to support their recovery.

How do I know if the amount of swelling I have is normal or needs intervention?

Normally, post operative swelling will be at its ‘peak’ during the first 3-10 days after surgery, and slowly dissipates in the months following surgery with the wearing of compression garments and adherence to post operative instructions. Some parts of the body, such as the face and nose, produce swelling so intense that it can persist for up to one year. Your post operative care nurse will examine your swelling at your first post op consult and will flag any usual swelling (which is why it is so important not to skip this appointment). You are also welcome to reach out to us with any swelling questions between your scheduled post op visits; these queries do not need to wait until your next appointment if you have concerns.

Just as we all bruise and scar differently, swelling is also unique to each patient. Some are more prone to swelling than others. It is misleading to compare your swelling to friends or family who have had the same surgery.

It is not normal to experience a sudden increase in swelling, weeks after surgery. This usually indicates too much physical activity, or injury to the operative area. In the event that this occurs, we ask patients to please contact the clinic so we can assess the swelling.