Lymphatic Drainage as a Treatment to Reduce Post-Operative Swelling

It is normal to have a moderate amount of swelling after surgery. However, techniques such as elevation, compression, and the right balance of motion can reduce the painful swelling. Over the course of the following year, the swelling will decrease but can be present for a minimum of 6 months. This is due to the 4 phases of healing that spans from day 1 after surgery up to 1-2 years.

How do you know if the swelling you have is a normal amount or excessive and limiting your ability to receive benefit from Physical Therapy? The following are signs and symptoms of excess swelling:

  • Skin that retains a dimple (pits) after being pressed for several seconds
  • Stretched and/or shiny skin
  • Wounds that are slow to heal
  • Excessive scar tissue
  • Loss of visibility of creases at joints
  • Loss of visibility of bony prominences and tendons

If elevation, ice, exercise or medication does not reduce your swelling there is an additional technique worth considering.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) can reduce swelling to allow for wound healing, increased motion of the joint, decreased healing time, decreased pain, and improved function. Some common complaints of excess swelling include:

  • Inability to wear normal or appropriate shoes for work or exercise
  • Inability to squat and use stairs
  • Inability to stand for simple daily tasks around the home such as cooking

Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a manual technique that resembles a massage. However, it is different because the touch is performed with focused attention and precision to pressure. The speed and direction of lymphatic drainage will encourage lymphatic flow and swelling reduction. Treatments are typically 60-minute appointments, 2-3 times a week for a minimum of 4 weeks. Compression is imperative to maintain the results of the decreased swelling between sessions. This may include bandaging or graduated compression socks, however compression is individualized and independently evaluated based on goals and personal needs.

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is performed at the Carrollton and Plano OrthoTexas clinics in the Therapy Department.

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