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I received a telephone call from a woman asking if manual lymphatic massage would help the
swelling that occurred after a “tummy tuck”. She was 10 days postoperative, had two drains in
her abdomen and was so swollen, that she couldn’t wear shoes. As a Vodder trained manual
lymphatic drainage therapist, RN, and having worked in a plastic surgeon’s office in the past, I
knew this was the perfect client to receive multiple lymphatic massages.
I saw her the next day, and I have to admit, she had really swollen toes, feet, ankles, full legs,
and abdominal and pubic area swelling. The client was wearing her compression garments and
abdominal binder, but still was very swollen. She was so swollen, she could only wear “flip
flops” sandals and waddled in like a swollen pregnant woman. Even though her surgery was on
her abdomen, all swelling moves downwards due to gravity.
In lymphatic drainage massages, which is a light massage, (you will squash the lymphatic
vessels), the goal is to open the lymphatic drainage sites of each body area. The lymphatic
system has no heart to pump it. Your moving around, your gut moving, and your breathing
moves the lymph. The lymph is the yellow fluid (from the blood) that flows through the body’s
separate lymphatic system and when overwhelmed begins to leak under your skin.
In regular massage, the therapist is trained to push fluids to the heart. In lymphatic massage in
this case, I lightly began to massage to drain at the client’s neck to “jump start” the movement
of the lymph system which can be thick and clogged. I than worked on the abdominal area
lightly, not touching the incision or the drains exit sites, then I moved to the drainage sites of
the groin where the legs meet the body. I pump, using light strokes to open the above areas to
drain. The legs have drainage sites behind the knees and ankles. The purpose of lymphatic
massage is to move the swelling of the lower areas into the drainage sites that is closest and
move it upwards to drain in to the heart and back in to the blood stream so the body can
remove it when you empty your bladder. I recommend that clients have 1-2 lymphatic massage
sessions BEFORE surgery to open the drainage sites, thin out your lymphatic fluid, and hopefully
make it more comfortable for you after surgery. This client would not have had such extreme
swelling if she had 2 sessions before her surgery.
Here are a few contraindications to lymphatic massage such as having a fever, having an
infection, heart failure, and with a doctor’s order for permission to work when a person has
After this client’s first session, her toes and legs began to become smaller and she had to run to
the bathroom after the session. When I saw her again in a few days, her feet and legs had
decreased in size and she was able to get on some loose shoes and walk better. After 2-3
sessions per week, she came in wearing a beautiful outfit, wearing pretty flat shoes, felt and
looked great!

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