Therapeutic Ultrasound and Physiotherapy treatment for mastitis and blocked ducts
Breastfeeding comes with many benefits to both mum and bub. In fact exclusive breastfeeding is encouraged for at least the first 6 months of the infant’s life. It is estimated that 12-44% of infants experience suboptimal breastfeeding. This can be contributed to by things such as mastitis and blocked ducts. It is estimated that 2/3rds of breastfeeding women experience blocked ducts.
What is mastitis, breast engorgement and blocked ducts?
- Breast engorgement: is a normal process occurring when the milk “comes in” to the breast, usually during the first 3-5 days postpartum . The breasts can become swollen, hard, tender and painful. Severe (pathological) breast engorgement can occur due to mismanagement of breastfeeding
- Blocked ducts – occurs when there is compression of the duct, restricting milk flow, creating a blockage. Milk can build up behind the blockage causing a hard lump which may be painful and red.
- Mastitis – inflammation of the breast with symptoms such as redness, breast pain, swelling and generalised flu-like symptoms. Mastitis can be infective or non infective – meaning an infection may or may not be present.
How can Physiotherapy and Ultrasound help with mastitis and blocked ducts?
Therapeutic ultrasound can help address the symptoms of, and treat mastitis and blocked ducts. While the exact mechanism are unknown it is proposed that the therapeutic ultrasound:
- May reduce swelling by improving blood flow and lymphatic drainage
- May reduce pain by having an effect on the sensory nerves in the area
- May change permeability of breast tissues
- Ultrasound can increase the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment by increasing cell wall permeability
What does Therapeutic ultrasound and Physiotherapy treatment for mastitis and blocked ducts involve?
- Assessment to determine affected areas + areas requiring treatment
- Obtaining a detailed history on breastfeeding and factors that may have contributed to the blocked duct or mastitis
- Ultrasound applied to the affected breast tissues by our Women’s Health Physio (Usually requiring 2-3 sessions every 1-2 days). The ultrasound probe is moved around the affected breast tissues, it is not painful, some gentle warmth may be felt.
- Breastfeeding advice and treatment plan regarding positioning, what to do before breast feeding and how to maximise milk flow and reduce duct compression
- Demonstrations on how to properly self massage to promote lymphatic drainage rather than compressing the ducts
Do I need antibiotics?
This is something that needs to be assessed by and discussed with your GP. Usually It is only infective mastitis in which antibiotics is required. Often antibiotics are overprescribed for cases of non infective mastitis. If we can use therapeutic ultrasound as a way to treat non infective mastitis and blocked ducts it will reduce the reliance on antibiotics. Additionally, if someone does have infective mastitis, as long as they have been on antibiotics for 24 hours, they can still get therapeutic ultrasound treatment to help with a quicker recovery and more effective treatment.
Case studies and evidence surrounding the benefits of Therapeutic Ultrasound for blocked ducts and mastitis
A research article has been published in 2012, involving 25 women with blocked ducts who underwent therapeutic ultrasound treatment. The research concluded that therapeutic ultrasound is an effective treatment for blocked ducts. Majority of the women reported pain reduction and improved breast feeding after the sessions. Majority of women only required 1-4 sessions to resolve symptoms.
Lavigne, V., & Gleberzon, B. J. (2012). Ultrasound as a treatment of mammary blocked duct among 25 postpartum lactating women: a retrospective case series. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 11(3), 170–178. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2012.05.011