Do I need massage therapy after my liposuction?

closeup of abdomen massage

The short answer is that it depends on what method was used to do your liposuction.

Patients are constantly asking me this question and they always seem surprised when I tell them that my liposuction technique does not require post-operative massages.

There are some liposuction techniques that really do benefit from massage therapy (often referred to as a lymphatic massage, MLD, or manual lymphatic drainage massage).

On the other hand, small cannula liposuction techniques do not need massage therapy to get the desired results.

Let me go into more detail to explain why massage techniques are helpful in some cases and not needed in others.

Massage therapy is generally recommended for two reasons:

  1. to reduce swelling
  2. to “break up” scarring and prevent skin surface contour deformities that are cased by internal scar adhesions in the subcutaneous tissue

Both of these issues need to be solved in order for you to get a smooth even liposuction result.

So you may ask: What causes swelling and internal adhesions?

To understand what causes swelling and internal adhesions during liposuction, you have to think about what happens during the procedure. A hollow or solid metal tube called a “cannula” is inserted into the subcutaneous space above the muscle and below the skin like this:

diagram of liposuction using a cannula with a larger hole at the tip
This illustration shows how the tip of the cannula is inserted below the skin into the fat layer above the muscle. Notice the large hole at the end of the cannula tip this particular illustration!

As the cannula glides back and forth in the subcutaneous tissue, it will break up some of the connective tissue to various degrees. Depending on the amount of damage there can be swelling, and the attempt to repair the damage sometimes leads to scar formation and internal adhesions.

Swelling

Normally, fluid comes out of the blood vessel (arteries and veins) and accumulates in the spaces that are in between cells and organs. This is called the interstitial space. The Lymphatic vessels are small fragile vessels that absorb this fluid in the interstitial space and return it to the veins. These fragile lymphatic vessels can be injured during liposuction. When this happens, you get swelling as the tissues are soaked with fluid that is not being drained by the damaged lymphatics.

Larger cannulas will create more ‘open space’ (than a thin cannula). The increased open space gives more opportunity for more fluid to collect there. “Lymphatic massage” is a massage technique used to help the fluid move along to areas where the lymphatic system is intact and, as such, the extra fluid can be drained.

Another method used to control swelling is compression. I personally believe that if you use compression early on, and continuously, you can reduce or eliminate the need for lymphatic massage.

Internal Adhesions

Internal adhesions happen after liposuction when a significant amount of tissue has been damaged or taken out and the hole left by the cannula has to be repaired or filled in by scar tissue. The larger the hole (from the cannula), the more repair there is to do. Larger cannulas leave larger holes.

Internal adhesions can cause dimpling or furrows in the skin after liposuction. The scar tissue binds to the edges of the remaining healthy tissue. This is called an adhesion. It can form a hard mass and in time starts contracting. This contraction of the scar pulls in the skin, creating a dimple or a furrow in the skin.

To prevent this dimpling, a stronger massage technique is used to “break up the scar.” Massage techniques, such as rollers, are used to break up this scar as it is being formed to prevent formation of adhesions that pull on the skin.

Types of Liposuction and when massage is necessary

There are three common liposuction techniques where we can plan for whether lymphatic massage will be needed or not. The only technique which does not require massage after the surgery is when surgery is performed with thin cannulas. This is because the tunnels (from the fat extraction) made by the thin cannula are so small that they do not accumulate fluid like big tunnels made by bigger cannulas.

Liposuction performed with thin cannulas does not need post operative massage to attain a smooth result.

Ultrasonic / Laser Lipo

An ultrasonic cannula or a laser cannula works by emitting energy that will liquefy, or “melt,” fat cells along the path of the cannula. These dead fat cells are then sucked out.

Unfortunately, that same energy can damage some cells that do not get sucked out. The body then creates an inflammatory response around these dead or damaged cells which, in turn, creates further tissue destruction. The result is large tissue gaps that have to be repaired or get filled in by scar tissue. Postoperatively , many surgeons performing this technique will recommend massage therapy . In many cases, unfortunatley, massage therapy is the only way to get a final result that is smooth.

Conventional Suction Cannulas

Conventional suction cannulas suck whatever is surrounding the cannula. The larger the cannula, the larger the gap of missing tissue that is left behind. Any cannula above 4 millimeters in diameter can leave tissue gaps that have to be filled in by scar tissue. Sometimes these large tissue gaps get filled in with fluids * and that is called a seroma.

Small Suction Cannulas

When you use small cannulas, 3 millimeters in diameter or less with small suction holes, it is virtually impossible to leave large tissue gaps that will result in scar tissue. The reason is that by taking out the tissue in multiple small fragments, you leave normal tissue in between that can repair the tissue without creating scar masses or internal adhesions.

liposuction diagram using small diameter cannula with small holes
This illustration shows how the tip of the cannula is inserted below the skin into the fat layer above the muscle. Notice how the cannula is thin and the holes are very small at the end of the cannula tip!

Summary: small suction cannulas do not need lymphatic massage afterwards

Needless to say, any surgeons who are using large cannulas, Laser lipo, or ultrasonic lipo should consider massage therapy for all of their patients.

I have been performing liposuction in my practice since the early 90’s and I have never referred any liposuction patient for massage therapy after surgery. I would never depend on a massage therapist to smooth out my surgical result. Likewise, I have not had any patients develop seroma after liposuction in years.

Here are two different cannulas for comparison. Notice how small the holes are on the thinner cannula I’m holding at the bottom of this photo taken during an actual liposuction procedure!

So, will you need massage therapy after your liposuction?

  • If your surgeon uses large cannula liposuction, laser lipo or ultrasound lipo: most likely YES.
  • If your surgeon uses thin cannula liposuction: most likely NO!

Wondering if Liposuction is right for you?

Contact Us to schedule a complimentary in-office consultation or consider a virtual consultation for just $75 (which gets applied to your surgery when you book). Or just give us a call at 410-494-8100!

Note: Virtual consults can also be used to get second opinions.

By Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez MD
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon
Cosmeticsurg Baltimore, Maryland
Ricardo L Rodriguez on American Society of Plastic Surgeons

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6 thoughts on “Do I need massage therapy after my liposuction?”

    • Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez says:

      If the surgeon uses a large cannula, YES, because there is a lot of tissue destruction. But I have used small cannulas (3mm diameter with 1.5mm diameter holes at the tip) for 20 years on thousands of patients. I have never seen the need for massage and the swelling is pretty much gone in 3-4 weeks. The body reacts MUCH better when you don"t beat it up and tear it up a lot, like with larger liposuction cannulas.
    • Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez says:

      If done with small cannulas (3mm) with small openings at the tips- nothing. I have been doing it like this for 20 years so it"s not like I"m just giving an opinion- this is my observation on thousands of patients. I recommend usually good compression after the surgery and provide the patient with the right garments- and that"s it. Lymphatic massage IS needed when you lip with larger cannulas (3.5mm and above) with Mercedes tip or any large hole tip. These cause massive destruction of subcutaneous tissue supporting structures that lead to a lot of disrupted lymphatics as well as scarring. So for those that get that kind of liposuction, lymphatic massage is needed.
  • Mark Ho Asjoe says:

    => Liposuction becomes the most opted surgery for fat reduction. Scientific reasons back the tips shared in the article. Therefore massage therapy is recommended by most plastic surgeons across the globe.
    • Dr. Ricardo L. Rodriguez says:

      Massage therapy is most definitely NOT needed after liposuction using small cannulas. The reason most plastic surgeons across the globe recommend it is because they do liposuction with larger cannulas that cause more supporting tissue damage, seromas, scarring, etc. In those cases massage therapy is definitely needed to prevent excess internal scarring and tissue irregularities. I find it better not to create the extensive damage in the first place. My patients are happier, they don't need the extra expense and discomfort of therapeutic massage. In addition rarely if ever are revisions needed because the result is a lot more uniform. It is harder work on the surgeon and more tedious but definitely worth it for the patient.