Do a Google search on post-surgery recovery and undoubtedly massage will be one of the top recommendations. Look at forums on the topic and you’ll see people boasting about how massage has helped them recover faster after surgery. There’s a good reason for this. Massage isn’t only about relaxing and feeling good. Quite the contrary, especially in cases like these. There are very few things that are going to take the pain and uncomfortableness away after surgery. Those things are anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and opioids. They do a moderate job at that while causing other problems.
So, what does massage do?
Massage sometimes referred to as manual therapy by medical professionals helps to pump blood, lymph, and edema (swelling) out of the injured sites. The less swelling you have in the post-surgical areas the more movement you will be able to have which will lead to faster healing.
After the surgery, the body sends increased fluids to the injured area to help with the healing process. That fluid sometimes needs help leaving the area due to poor circulation from lack of movement or gravity. That’s where massage comes in. Massage helps break down and move the fluid away from the injured site. The body then circulates that extra fluid and bodily waste through the lymph nodes and excretes it from the body. If it doesn’t disperse, it sits there pressing on the injured site, causing pain and possibly leading to pitted edema.
How soon after surgery can I start massage?
Talk to your doctor and/or physical therapist before getting massages. Make sure they clear you of any possible blood clots, infections open wounds first. In some cases, they may recommend massage in areas other than the actual location first to prevent poor body mechanics, new injuries or pooling of lymphedema in other parts of the body due to inactivity. The sooner the better because massage will help keep your overall body in optimal condition as you heal.
What kind of massage should I get?
You should aim to find someone who specializes in myofascial, lymphatic drainage or better yet, both. Depending on what stage of your recovery you are in will require one or the other to be applied. Someone fresh out of surgery will need the lymphatic drainage massage which aims to assist the body of filtering out toxins in the body by pushing lymph in the direction of the lymph nodes. The nodes clean the lymph of bodily waste which it accumulates as it circulates through the body. Surgeries create a lot of waste for the lymph to pick up.
Those further along in the healing process may develop stiffness, tightness, scar tissue that needs to be freed up. This is when myofascial release should be applied. Myofascial can use rolling, pin & stretch, and deep penetration techniques to reduce the stickiness to open up those areas for better performance and comfortability.
What if I don’t have access to these things?
Invest in a foam roller or an ORB. Have your physical therapist or personal trainer teach you how to use them appropriately to heal your injuries. There is also a great method that many people turn to for healing their injuries called The MELT Method. You can try this too. The key is to tackle recovering from your surgery right away. Don’t let yourself form bad habits after surgery because those bad habits will become the norm. You don’t want that. What you want is to be back to normal sooner rather than later.
Felicia Hayes is a licensed massage therapist located in Ashburn, Virginia.