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Why Some Plastic Surgeons Tell You Not to Get Lymphatic Massage After Plastic Surgery

confused surgeon - should someone get lymphatic massage after plastic surgery or not?
If you have spent any time on social media (which most people landing on this article will have done), you have probably run across debates among people regarding plastic surgery recovery and how you should go about it.

One of the hottest topics at the moment is:

Should you get a lymphatic massage after plastic surgery?

  • Some surgeons put their foot down and say “no.”  
  • Other surgeons won’t release you from their care unless you do it.
  • Some surgeons say “Do it if you want – I don’t think it will help or hurt.”

So what the heck is the right answer?

As a Certified Lymphedema Therapist who specializes in plastic surgery recovery, I naturally have a bias towards promoting people getting lymphatic massages.  It is my specialty, my area of expertise, so I know a lot about what it can and can’t do for someone.  I also know when it is being done wrong, and unfortunately,  it is done wrong more than it is done right.

Let’s Take a Look at Why These
Different Opinions Are Given By Doctors

In Western society, we are taught to listen to our doctors.  They are well-educated, and what they say goes.

There is a lot of truth to that.  Doctors go through very grueling education that teaches them a lot of information.  Obtaining a medical license is no small feat.  Doctors on the whole deserve our respect, and we should listen to what they say…most of the time.

Doctors Know a Lot, But They Don’t Know Everything

While doctors are smart and they do possess a great deal of knowledge, there are several areas of study that are simply not taught in medical school.  Three that come to mind are nutrition, exercise, and the lymphatic system.  

Of course, they receive some training in these areas, but it is exceedingly minimal by comparison to people who study nutrition, exercise, and lymphatics.

I have worked on several doctors in my practice, many of whom have had plastic surgery, and as I am talking to them about lymphatic massage and their recovery they ask me “Why if I have been to medical school do I not know this information?”

That is a great question.  It is a very important question.

The fact of the matter is that doctors usually get only about 30 minutes of training in the lymphatic system in their entire medical training.  Even doctors who specialize in vascular medicine have not much more training.  The lymphatic system is a vascular system – along with the heart, arteries and veins.

So, it is no wonder that doctors are divided on the matter of whether or not to suggest lymphatic massage to their post-op patients.  But it’s a little more complicated than that.  Let me explain.

The 2 Different Answers You Get
(and why)

Some doctors give you written instructions to get lymphatic massages after plastic surgery while some outright tell you not to get them.  Which one is right?


Docs who say: “Get Lymphatic Massages After Plastic Surgery”

Get a lymphatic massage after plastic surgery

Many plastic surgeons are aware that there are significant benefits to recovery when excess fluid is removed from the tissue.  Not only is the tumescent fluid that is injected during surgery (which later becomes an irritant) moved away from the site, but so are a lot of biochemical markers that worsen and prolong the inflammatory process.  

The lymphatic system (our internal drainage pathway) is clogged with gunk from surgery for weeks after the operation, and  lymphatic massage frees up these clogs and helps move fluid away from the surgical site.  Without lymphatic massage, fluid that is constantly coming to the surgical area either to feed the cells or as part of the inflammatory process can’t be evacuated normally.  This leads to swelling.

Surgeons who support lymphatic massage understand that their patients are more comfortable and heal quicker when true lymphatic massage is performed.

The Problem with Some Doctors Who Advise Patients to Get Lymphatic Massage

As mentioned earlier, lymphatic education among physicians is exceedingly limited.  Most don’t know exactly what constitutes a legitimate lymphatic therapy session.  Because of this, they often send their patients out into the world to find their own therapist.  

People getting plastic surgery usually do not have education in the lymphatic system, so they go online and find one of thousands of people advertising post-op lymphatic massages.  They don’t understand the education or licensure that a person should have to perform lymphatic massage.  As a result, they end up with people who are often unlicensed and uneducated who perform illegal, painful, and dangerous incisional drainage. 

What is even worse (and quite frankly unbelievable) is that many doctors think that incisional drainage IS lymphatic massage due to their lack of education in lymphatics!  These doctors sometimes refer out to unlicensed people who perform incisional drainage, putting their patients in the hands of someone who reopens surgical wounds with various tools (who knows if they have been used before or are sterilized…) and puts them at risk of potentially life-threatening infections.


Docs who say: “Don’t Get Lymphatic Massages After Plastic Surgery”

Don't get a lymphatic massage after plastic surgery

Other doctors don’t want you to get a lymphatic massage at any cost.  Why?  Well, they hear about the incisional drainage scenario described above, and they are trying to look out for their patients.  This is being done in the best interest of the patient.

That being said, while they are trying to do the right thing by keeping their patient from harm, they are not educated enough in true lymphatic work to realize that there is safe and effective therapy available from properly trained therapists that can help their patients heal faster and feel better quicker.

Why Is This Happening?

Should you get lymphatic massage after plastic surgery Confused surgeon plastic surgery

What this all boils down to is a lack of education on the part of the doctors.  Medical schools need to step up their education from the mere half hour of education docs get on the lymphatic system. 

This is a serious issue that extends far beyond the realm of plastic surgery.  Certified Lymphedema Therapists routinely get new patients who have developed lymphedema following a cancer surgery – sometimes years down the road, and they tell the story of having had a swollen arm or leg that no doctor could diagnose after having all of their lymph nodes removed near that limb.  By the time they get to the therapist, their lymphedema has progressed to a point where their arm or leg is permanently disfigured.  Why?  Because of lack of education across the board for doctors about the lymphatic system and how it functions.

Although the above example has nothing directly to do with plastic surgery, it shows the widespread ignorance that exists amongst physicians about the lymphatic system.  So, when you hear different stories from people on social media where one person’s doctor said lymphatic massages are a must and another person’s doctor said “absolutely not,” it is most likely a lack of knowledge rather than sound medical advice coming from a point of good education.