Lymphedema is a common condition that develops after you've had a mastectomy. Lymphedema causes swelling in your arm that can be painful or uncomfortable. Your doctor might recommend lymphatic massage as one of the treatments to help this condition.
Lymphatic massage is different from a traditional massage. It's done by a therapist trained specifically in treating lymphedema, and since it's a medical treatment, it might be covered by your insurance. Here's a look at how lymphatic massage helps after a mastectomy.
Breast Cancer Treatments Affect The Lymph Nodes
Surgery for breast cancer often includes removing some of the lymph nodes close to your breast. Radiation treatments for breast cancer can also harm the lymph nodes that remain. The nodes might be scarred and restrict the normal movement of lymph.
Swelling right after surgery or radiation treatments is common, and this type of lymphedema may clear up on its own. Swelling that happens months or years later may require medical treatments, such as lymphatic massage, to help move the congested lymph to other areas of your body.
Lymphatic Massage Directs Lymph Flow
If you've had a mastectomy, check with your doctor before you have a lymphatic massage to see if it's a suitable treatment. If so, your doctor may want to combine it with treatments you can do at home such as positioning your arm above your head and doing self-massages. You might need to wear a compression garment too.
It takes more than one session to drain lymph fluid. You might need to schedule a massage daily or a few times a week for a few weeks to get the best results. This type of massage isn't uncomfortable since it uses very light strokes. The strokes are intended to stimulate the flow of lymph, so they need to be light since deep strokes could keep lymph from flowing.
The goal is to direct lymph away from the nodes that aren't functional to another area of your body where lymph is draining well. This requires the right technique as well as knowledge about the anatomy of your body. The techniques include sweeping and stretching movements over the surface of your skin. No deep tissue work or kneading is involved.
Lymphedema is sometimes a chronic condition after you've had a mastectomy. It may clear up for months only to come back when you wear restrictive clothing or overwork your arm. A massage therapist trained in lymphatic massage may have advice for exercises and self-care that keeps your flares to a minimum. When lymphedema comes back, see your doctor right away so treatments can begin before the swelling gets too bad and becomes more difficult to reverse.