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  • Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP, BFRC

Getting Back To Your Full Self: Benefits of Massage Therapy After Surgery

Surgery can be a life-saving and transformative medical intervention, but it often comes with post-operative discomfort and pain. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the therapeutic benefits of incorporating massage into the post-surgical recovery process. Massage, when done correctly, can aid in pain reduction, minimize the need for pain medication, and promote faster healing.

Manual lymphatic drainage massage on post-surgical knee patient
Manual Lymphatic Drainage on Knee Patient

One specialized technique frequently used in post-surgical recovery is manual lymphatic drainage. In this blog, we will explore the benefits of utilizing massage following surgery, including its role in pain reduction and reducing reliance on pain medication, the ideal timing for post-surgical massages, and the specifics of manual lymphatic drainage.

The Benefits of Post-Surgical Massage

  1. Pain Reduction: One of the most significant benefits of post-surgical massage is pain reduction. Surgery often leaves patients with muscle tension, soreness, and inflammation. Skilled massage therapists can use techniques to release muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote the body's natural pain-relief mechanisms, such as the release of endorphins.

  2. Reduced Pain Medication Dependency: Many patients are prescribed pain medications after surgery, which can have side effects and potential for dependency. Massage can be an effective complementary therapy for pain management. By reducing pain and discomfort, patients may find themselves relying less on pain medications, minimizing the risks associated with them.

  3. Improved Circulation and Lymphatic Flow: Massage can stimulate blood circulation, which is vital for the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the surgical site. Additionally, it can enhance lymphatic flow, aiding in the removal of toxins and reducing swelling. This is particularly important for reducing post-operative edema (swelling).

  4. Stress Reduction: Surgery is a stressful experience, and stress can impede the healing process. Massage is known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, promoting a sense of relaxation and well-being. This, in turn, can positively impact the healing process.

The Timing of Post-Surgical Massage

The timing of post-surgical massage is crucial. In most cases, it is recommended to wait until after the acute phase of healing, typically 48-72 hours post-surgery. The exact timing may vary based on the type of surgery and individual circumstances, so it's essential to consult with your surgeon and a licensed massage therapist to determine the most appropriate time to start massage therapy.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage in Post-Surgical Recovery

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a specialized massage technique that can be highly beneficial in post-surgical recovery. MLD is designed to stimulate the lymphatic system, which plays a crucial role in reducing swelling and promoting the removal of waste and toxins from the body. Here's how MLD can be incorporated into post-surgical recovery:

  1. Reducing Swelling: MLD is particularly effective in reducing post-surgical edema. Gentle, rhythmic movements help to move excess fluids away from the surgical site, preventing the accumulation of fluids that can lead to swelling.

  2. Enhancing the Healing Process: By improving lymphatic flow, MLD accelerates the body's natural healing process. It helps remove cellular debris, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue regeneration.

  3. Minimizing Scarring: MLD can also be beneficial for minimizing scar tissue formation. By reducing inflammation and promoting healthy tissue repair, it can lead to less noticeable scars.

  4. Pain Relief: MLD can alleviate pain and discomfort associated with post-surgery swelling, making it an essential tool in the postoperative pain management toolkit.

Incorporating massage, including manual lymphatic drainage, into your post-surgical recovery plan can offer a range of benefits, including pain reduction, reduced reliance on pain medication, improved circulation, and faster healing. It's essential to consult with your healthcare provider and a licensed massage therapist to determine the most appropriate timing and techniques for your specific surgery and individual needs. With proper guidance, post-surgical massage can be a valuable component of your journey to a full and speedy recovery.


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Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP, BFRC, is a Nationally Certified Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist and has been a part of the healthcare field since 2002. She is the Director of Resolve Wellness, specializing in Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Prenatal Massage. Erynne has extensive knowledge of both massage and physiology, even receiving her Master's degree in Exercise Physiology from San Diego State University.


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