Optimize Cosmetic Surgery Recovery with Lymphatic Drainage

Lymphatic drainage after cosmetic surgery reduces swelling and speeds up your healing. In fact, most board certified plastic surgeons will even prescribe lymphatic drainage for optimal cosmetic surgery recovery. Cosmetic surgery, like any other major surgery, requires time and support for a smooth recovery. Preparing your body and your mind for the procedure, as well as establishing support for the weeks and months following, will maximize your healing, improve surgical outcomes, and speed your return to a full and active lifestyle.

Lymphatic drainage therapy has been shown to reduce post-operative swelling, alleviate pain, and speed post-surgical healing. Surgeons differ on how soon after a procedure their patients should begin lymphatic drainage massage, but most agree this gentle and profound technique makes an essential contribution to their patients’ healing, comfort, and best aesthetic outcomes.

Pre-Cosmetic Surgery Preparation

Consultation and Planning

  • People don’t always realize that their role as patient includes taking responsibility for being informed about their procedure and its risks. Ask questions of your surgeon prior to your procedure and any time during the recovery process. Share your goals for the procedure to reduce risk of misunderstanding or disappointment. And follow instructions both pre- and post surgery. 
  • Make sure you understand what compression garments you will need, when to wear them, and for how long. Often a surgeon will provide you with a post-operative garment to wear home from surgery, or ask that you purchase one and bring it with you the day of your surgery. Compression garments should likely always be used after liposuction surgery. They are commonly beneficial after tummy tuck, body lifts, and breast and buttock implants. Always consult with your doctor before starting to wear a compression garment.

Prepare your body and mind for the procedure.

Lifestyle adjustments before your cosmetic surgery

  • Ideally, someone planning cosmetic surgery is already in good health. Putting off surgery until you are feeling your best can be an excellent strategy for promoting optimal cosmetic outcomes. 
  • Healthy targets include:
    • Minimal alcohol consumption and the ability to abstain/cut back from drinking for several weeks or even months
    • No smoking
    • A regular exercise routine and/or walking practice
    • A balanced diet
  • Prepare your home with the support you’ll need:
    • Frozen low-salt healthy meals and no-salt soups, hydrating fruits and veggies already sliced and packaged into servings
    • Ice packs in the freezer
    • A nurturing resting place with enough pillows or a wedge to prop yourself in a semi-reclined position
  • Connect with a lymphatic therapist and schedule a series of appointments to support your healing after surgery. Avoid the disappointment of few or no available appointments when you need them most.
  • Review any medications you currently take with your surgeon to ensure they don’t interfere with recovery. 

Understanding Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

What is lymphatic drainage therapy?

Lymphatic drainage therapy combines drainage massage techniques, scar healing and mobilization, movement therapy, breath work, and self-nourishment practices to aid in detoxifying the body, mind, and spirit. The process reduces swelling, inflammation, stress and anxiety, while enhancing blood and lymph circulation, cleansing and revitalizing nearly every organ and system in the body.

The natural healing response of the body to an acute trauma like surgery involves a cascade of inflammatory and immune responses. Your sympathetic nervous system often engages its flight or fight response. The stages of tissue healing involving inflammation, swelling and recovery, require support and encouragement to speed the process and reduce pain. 

Lymphatic drainage therapy offers this essential support.

First sessions are typically gentle lymphatic drainage massage combined with low level laser use/photobiomodulation for swelling and pain reduction. Scar mobilization with manual techniques doesn’t happen until incisions have closed and scars have healed, often 4-6 weeks post surgery. 

When to start lymphatic drainage therapy?

Some surgeons recommend lymphatic drainage massage within 48 hours after surgery, others direct their patients to begin 1 week or more post-surgery. 

Because the techniques of lymphatic drainage therapy can reduce swelling without actually mobilizing the tissue at, or even near, the surgery site, early lymphatic drainage massage can be a safe swelling- and pain-reducing technique immediately.

It is important to ask your surgeon when they would like you to begin receiving this support, and for what frequency and duration. 

Post-Operative Care Guidelines

Immediate post-Cosmetic surgery period

  • As with any surgery, please follow your surgeon’s guidelines for precautions and restrictions. 
  • The days immediately after your surgery are days of rest, elevation, and following your surgeon’s guidelines for movement restrictions, hydration, protein intake, and pain management. 
  • Hopefully, even before your surgery you started a walking practice, and you should continue this! Walking is typically a very safe form of exercise, critical for the muscle pump action needed to propel blood and lymph throughout your body. 
  • Many procedures will affect posture, making it more difficult to walk and exercise. For instance, after a tummy tuck it will feel hard to stand up straight because of tightened abdominal skin. Don’t forcibly try to straighten during the first 1-2 weeks. Instead, stay slightly flexed. Gently, over the next 7-14 days, begin to encourage a more upright stance.
  • Deep breathing is a wonderful and effective practice for calming anxiety and moving lymph. If deep diaphragmatic breathing is painful, try smaller breaths at first, engaging the whole torso, belly and ribs, using a soft pillow to gently press against the abdomen and/or chest, bracing the tissue for pain control.
  • And wear the compression given to you by your surgeon as instructed (typically 23 hours/day for 4-6 weeks, and if you can tolerate it, for 6 months to one year). 

Incorporate lymphatic drainage therapy

Integrate lymphatic drainage therapy into your recovery plan. Surgeons I have worked with typically recommend 2-3 treatments per week for the first 2-3 weeks, followed by 1 treatment per week for the next 4 weeks, with ongoing assessment to determine your specific needs. Scheduling your first few weeks of appointments ahead of time is a wonderful way to secure the support you’ll need.

Managing swelling and bruising

Some tips for minimizing post-operative swelling and bruising:

  • Rest: move your affected areas gently to prevent stiffness but not so much to promote swelling and pain. Movement promotes lymph flow and blood circulation. Rest and gentle movements are key!
  • Ice: if your surgeon allows, use ice on the affected area to reduce fluid accumulation and blood flow/bleeding in the tissue. Use caution when icing numb areas. Never apply ice or chemical ice packs directly to the skin and never ice for more than 20-30 minutes at a time, with at least 30 minutes off between applications. 
  • Skin care: moisturize daily, use topical arnica cream for bruising, apply your lotion using decongesting strokes taught to you by your lymphatic therapist
  • Compression: wear your compression as directed by your surgeon.
  • Elevation and positioning: elevate the affected body part as much as you can for the first 24-48 hours and when you are resting change positions frequently (about every 30 minutes). If you can elevate the body part above the heart and still be comfortable, this is excellent. For abdominal swelling, be aware of gravitational pull. If resting on one side, be sure to rest equally on the other side. For the first several days, rest on your back with the legs elevated and then, if you’d like, try side-lying with a pillow between your knees. 7-10 days post, try sleeping flat without the knee pillow to prevent swelling accumulation in your abdomen.

Long-Term Recovery After Cosmetic Surgery

A gradual resumption of activities

  • Gradually reintroduce activities and exercises per your surgeon’s guidelines.
  • Listen to your body and avoid overexertion.

Maintenance Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

  • The potential benefits of doing maintenance lymphatic drainage therapy are many. The work will continue to soften scar tissue, reduce fibrosis and adhesions, and assist with tissue detoxification and overall skin health and glow. Finding home in your new skin and shape is a journey that benefits from loving touch and a supportive guide. Massage, movement, and breathing practices that are tailored to your unique embodiment can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and revitalize you.
  • Maintain communication with your surgeon and your lymphatic therapist. Healing can continue for six, twelve, eighteen months and longer. Don’t forget you are not alone!

In Summary

  • Cosmetic surgery, like any surgery, requires recovery time and support. The healing process can be messy, with bruising, pain, oozing incisions, and drains with awkward tubing. Planning postsurgical physical and emotional support is critical to achieving optimal healing and aesthetic outcomes. Preparing your body and mind for the procedure is essential. And having well-fitting, quality compression garments ready on day one will reduce postoperative inflammation and maximize the effectiveness of lymphatic drainage therapy.
  • A collaborative approach between surgical care and lymphatic drainage therapy can optimize your recovery experience. Find out from your surgeon when you can begin lymphatic drainage massage and how frequently they would like you to receive it. Then connect with a lymphatic therapist, schedule your sessions, and mark your calendar. You will be so happy you supported your healing in this way!

Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.

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