Proponents of the treatment say it can help maintain healthy breast tissue and promote healing from surgery in the area. We polled experts to find out whether it really works.
If you've ever gotten a massage before, you know that one of the areas not covered by the typical treatment is the breasts. While most people are pretty okay with not having their boobs touched by a stranger, for those who are experiencing breast pain due to trauma or surgery, having a massage in the area might actually sound pretty nice. That's part of the reason breast massage is becoming a more common offering, especially in natural and holistic health care spas and clinics. (BTW, here's how a sports massage can improve your workout.)
One of the premier spas offering the treatment is the Chopra Center in California, which recently started offering an Ayurvedic breast massage. So what does that mean exactly? In order to have the treatment, you need to have a referral from a physician, which means you'll need to discuss it with your doctor first to determine whether it's a good option for you. If you're wondering who it's meant for, though, the answer is pretty much anyone, but especially those who have recently undergone breast surgery of any kind.
"The Ayurvedic breast massage is for all women—healthy women, women who have been diagnosed with or are survivors of breast cancer, women who have fibrocystic breasts, and women who are recovering from breast augmentation or reduction or cardiac abnormalities," says Jennifer Johnson, spa director at the Chopra Center. As for why you would want to do it, she says that "it can help promote healthy breast tissue, support in a healthy recovery from breast cancer, and aid in recovery from other breast conditions and procedures." The most touted benefits are reduced pain and swelling, improved range of motion, and the flushing of toxins out through the lymphatic system.
So what actually happens during the treatment? Once the therapist has reviewed your medical information in detail, she gets started. "Throughout the massage, we use a combination of lymphatic strokes, active muscle techniques, and marma point therapy," explains Johnson. Marma points are energy centers used in Ayurveda that are similar to acupressure points. "We stimulate marma points that encourage flow of lymph and breast health," Johnson adds.
This all sounds great, but is it legit? As it turns out, lymphatic drainage massage is pretty standard when it comes to recovery from breast cancer surgery or treatments. "Breast massage can be part of a multi-step approach for women to treat or prevent problems related to lymphedema," says Arefa Cassoobhoy, M.D., senior medical director at WebMD.
Lymphedema happens when lymph fluid doesn't drain the way it should and instead collects in the body's tissues causing swelling. It is relatively common after surgery or radiation. "Breast massage is a component of what's called manual lymphatic drainage, in other words, draining the lymph fluid by hand. A specially trained physical therapist does this, along with teaching you exercises to do at home," she explains.
It's important to note, though, that traditional lymphatic drainage massage focuses on just getting rid of the fluid that's causing swelling, not releasing toxins. Still, all of the experts we spoke to agree that this can be a helpful treatment during recovery from breast cancer–related surgery or treatments.
So far so good. But where medical experts are not so convinced the massage works is for anything other than lymphedema. "There is no evidence it is helpful after breast augmentation or reduction," says Mihye Choi, M.D., associate professor of plastic surgery at NYU Langone Health. She also cautions that direct massage over tissue expanders or a breast implant after a mastectomy is not recommended.
As for the idea that a breast massage can help maintain healthy breast tissue, experts are skeptical. "If you have healthy breasts, massage is not something you need to do to keep your breast tissue healthy," Dr. Cassoobhoy says. Plus, "there isn't any data that shows breast massage prevents breast disease," says Alicia Terando, M.D., a surgical oncologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. "But as a method to reduce swelling, to keep the tissues supple, and to minimize scarring, yes I do believe there is a benefit to breast massage."
So there you have it. Recovering from surgery? Talk to your doctor about what this treatment might be able to do for you. But if your breasts are generally healthy, you can skip it.