When I was at my post-operative appointment, my doctor said that I’m no longer prohibited from having sex at the end of two-weeks (…whoops…) and that I should begin massaging my new breasts at the end of the third.
This is supremely ironic, as I’ve been spending the past weeks of my recovery feverishly checking the state’s Office of the Professions website to see if I passed or failed the massage boards exam.
Prior to my foray into plastic surgery, I attended a state-funded school to get an Associates Degree in Massage Therapy. The conclusion of this academic exercise in futility and administering naps was an exam to get licensed by the state. It’s required. Otherwise that whole 1,000 hours of education and clinic hours spent rubbing octogenarian feet was for naught. Breast massage was briefly taught in a Medical Massage class by an ancient professor who jiggled her own sagging right tit in her hand through her brightly-colored Chico’s blouse. I’ve tried to block it out.
The irony of having to rub myself is two-fold as well because, ahem, getting breast implants was partially motivated by a desire to have other people massage my breasts. But I guess breaking them in on my own would be a start.
One of the first things that happened after I pissed and metabolized the rest of the anesthesia away over the course of two days was the fact that I felt my breasts weren’t my own. (“Well, they aren’t,” an astute friend pointed out.) My initial reaction in the recovery room had been to slowly lift my hands up to my bandaged tits and rub them, like a slower, more drugged climax of “Eye of the Beholder.”
After the early proprioceptive confusion, I had to take a shower. The first few times were a bit awkward, and…gross. I trembled and felt like I was on the verge of retching, not because of pain. I didn’t want to touch them. I didn’t want to look at them. Not because I regretted anything – in clothes I was suddenly a Hentai character, and not in a bad way – but because I didn’t know what to do with them. Still numb from the tampering my fourth intercostal nerve had been subjected to, they literally felt like someone else’s. I could sense pressure, but not sensation on my skin. Massage, at least how I knew it, would be impossible.
Fast-forward two weeks. Sensation in the left breast fully returned (now with nipple!) and halfway returned to the right. Small swaths of them are slightly-to-completely numb, but I can touch them, poke them, and basically use them as fragile projectiles. It was time to start massaging.
Now, I know that my two years of manual therapy training should have left me with a bevy of gropey tools in the proverbial ‘move’ toolbox, and that my cursory understanding of human anatomy and physiology should have blown away any and all dust-bunnies of self-doubt, but no. I approached my new tits with the type of trepidation as a twelve-year-old boy copping his first prepubescent feel.
I squeezed like I was checking the ripeness of a rare tropical fruit. I pushed with the pads of my fingers as though trying to nudge a precious family heirloom into its right place on a shelf. But mostly I just stared at myself in the mirror.
I was clueless, helpless, but no longer boobless. It was time to consult the oracle. I typed “breast augmentation self massage” into the Google search bar and waited to attain enlightenment.
‘“Massage” refers to the “displacement exercises” that you need to do postoperatively. This is VERY important.”
“Massage is at best unnecessary and at worst counterproductive.”
From the get-go, I could tell that I’d been wrong. I was not going to be able to simply click on a WikiHow link of how to pummel my gummy bears into corporeal compliance. The forum porthole into the rabbit-hole of comments sections is what I fell into. Hard.
One doctor in Minneapolis said to push the implant in all different directions, holding each ‘push’ for a ten count in order to stretch the pocket and avoid capsular contracture.
Another doctor in New Brunswick, New Jersey said that capsular contracture was an immunological response and therefore any manual manipulation was for naught, whereas the prescription of Accolate post-operatively was essential. (Not entirely true. Etiology is commonly cited as unknown. I was not prescribed Accolate or antibiotics.)
A doctor in Manhattan and another in Austin said that self-massage is contraindicated for textured implants. Three or four from various locations said it was absolutely crucial. One other plastic surgeon, also from Manhattan, said it didn’t matter either way.
I found myself judging the efficacy of self-massage on whether or not I liked the city of origin of the majority of the doctors in each camp. It was an equal split. (Nine for, nine against, two neutral, one who had too many typos for me to pay attention to his response.) One doctor who went into a detailed argument about why massage was useless made me get wet over his vitriol and thoroughness of argument.
“Capsular contracture arises from biofilm within the pocket resulting from a low concentration of bacteria and the associated extracellular matrix. The bacteria do not cause an infection, yet cause the capsule to contract. Minimizing bacterial contamination and growth helps prevent capsular contracture. In fact a recent study that followed outcomes and several variables found that the patients who did implant massage had a higher rate of capsular contracture! And the theory that “massage enlarges the implant pocket” is ludicrous. Why would one want their implant pocket to be excessively large? The implant should fit within the pocket and not pin-ball around under the breast.”
Well-done, sir. Well-done…now, if you excuse me, I need to wipe off my chair.
But I still didn’t know whether or not massage was effective, or how to do it. All I knew was that my supremely foxy doctor had told me to. And I’d been too lost in his gaze (and my post-op haze) to think of asking how.
So what did Team Touch Yo’self say about technique?
Start in a week. Start immediately, if the patient can tolerate it. Do it three times a day. Do it every day. Do it once in a while. Do it for four to six weeks. Stop when the swelling goes down. Do it forever. Do it “several” times per day. Twice a day for six weeks post-operatively. Do it hourly for three months after surgery. Start immediately after surgery, or at the moment that the patient is able to cope with the pain.
My doctor said to start during week three, which is now. I’ll default to two or three times a day, or whenever I remember. I mean, I’m naked about twice a day. Sometimes more. So, then. If I have the time.
And exactly how long is required?
Ten repetitions of a ten count.
Continuous circular motion until all aspects of each breasts are touched.
“A few times.”
Hold for twenty seconds.
“A few seconds per direction.”
Five-to-ten seconds, repeated five times.
Ten to fifteen repetitions.
“No magic number on how long or how often to do this.”
I felt like I was reading a modern witchcraft forum on how many times to perform an incantation, and with information and sources equally as believable.
Push the implants up, down, and towards the middle.
Never push down.
Push down, centrally, upwards
Never push upwards.
Pull them up towards your collarbone and hold..
Hold in each direction, “think about how you stretch your calves before running.”
Use a loose fist.
Use a pinching motion.
Place your hand on the lower portion of the left breast.
Your small finger should rest in the fold underneath your breast.
Apply gentle pressure.
Apply moderate pressure.
Apply as much pressure as you can physically handle.
Move from the base “or you’re just moving the skin.”
I would like to point out that all but one of the doctors who chimed in were male, and the one female didn’t answer the question. She simply described the risk of capsular contracture, and awkwardly, with a dangling, unclosed parentheses.
I decide that, much like the decision to get plastic surgery, this whole “displacement” or “self-massage” thing also had to be a personal choice. I’d do it, and I’d do it the way that I saw fit. Here’s my ‘scrip for you, if you’re looking for a way to soften up your new lumps or you’re just interested in some new breast-play techniques:
Use moderate pressure. Alternate between continuous motion and sustained stretch-like compressions. Sometimes use your fist (in the car when stopped at red lights, during commercial breaks while watching The Rachel Maddow Show, or between periods at Islanders preseason games.) Sometimes grab one like an overripe grapefruit and push ‘em wherever it can go, maybe hold it there, if you want to and aren’t in a rush. Then do the same thing on the other side. Nudging and poking also can be employed.
Repeat whenever. Do often. Have a friend help you. Enjoy your tits.