I had the pleasure of receiving back to back massages from two of my favorite massage practitioners on two days last week. These were the first massages I have received since my foot, ankle, and knee surgeries earlier this year. Both massages were incredibly therapeutic, comforting, and relieving. The experience got me thinking about the importance of post-operative massage, and why it feels so good. Mind you, these were not the first massages I have had following surgery, as these were my 8th, 9th, and 10th orthopedic surgeries. BUT they were the first massages I have received since becoming a massage therapist myself, so my perspective and appreciation were noticeably different. Read on for Five important benefits of post-surgical massage:
1. Massage improves the circulation of blood and lymph throughout the body. Increased circulation brings blood and nutrients to the affected area, and moves stagnant fluids and toxins out of compromised tissues and into the lymphatic vessels and out of the body. These processes help to reduce swelling, stimulate the immune system, and hasten repair of damaged tissues.
2. Massage eases post-operative pain. Every surgery involves pain to varying degrees. Massage following the acute phase of healing (usually after a couple of weeks or more) has been shown to interfere with pain receptor signals to the brain and thereby reduce the sensation of pain in the area. Massaging around surgical incisions and facilitating gentle movement in compromised structures can be incredibly soothing. Always check with your surgeon as to when massage is appropriate for you following surgery.
3. Massage can reduce the amount of scar tissue formation. Scar tissue is the body’s natural and necessary response to surgery. Regular massage in the affected area, however, can reduce and soften the build-up of tough, fibrous scar tissue. Also, keeping surrounding muscles supple helps to lessen the formation of scar tissue.
4. Massage can increase flexibility and decrease stiffness in surrounding muscles and joints. Our bodies work very hard to compensate for the trauma brought on by surgery to an area. Unaffected muscles are called on to work extra hard to protect and guard the surgical area. Massage can help to relax overworked muscles and release adhesions of underlying muscle tissue secondary to the tension, displacement, and cutting involved in surgery.
5. Massage provides a strong psychological benefit for patients recovering from surgery. Surgery, even in it’s most minor form, causes alterations to the bodies normal way of functioning. Lifestyle changes are usually called for, even if only temporary. Regular routines and activities change to accommodate restrictions in mobility, a greater need for rest and recovery, and a multitude of other considerations. Massage offers a compassionate and caring form of therapy during this healing time. To be acknowledged and cared for with a healing touch can feel very affirming and normalizing for patients when so many other aspects of life are disrupted.
If I had to sum up my favorite aspects of my massages last week, it would be that last point. It felt so good to have someone pay attention to my foot and ankle, which have been sequestered in a cast or cast boot for the last two months. The freedom and spaciousness that I felt in the surrounding joints and tissues from the massages was both unexpected and enlightening. I felt finally (albeit temporarily) decompressed! And I loved being able to just relax into the table and forget about everything for awhile, and to let myself be cared for by skilled and healing hands.
I hope your path doesn’t take you down the surgical road…but if it does, as soon as your physician says your able, consider massage as a comforting and helpful tool to both ease your mind and speed your recovery. Happy Healing!