Treating blocked ducts and mastitis by therapeutic ultrasound

The benefits of breastfeeding your baby are well documented, and while it is always a new mother’s choice as to whether she would prefer to feed by breast or bottle, some women are left with no choice thanks to feeling ill with a fever, breast pain, redness and swelling – which are all symptoms of mastitis.

Complications arising from blocked milk ducts

Mastitis often starts as a result of a blocked duct, which can happen following excessive compression, which in turn restricts the flow of milk. It is fairly easy to compress a milk duct, and it doesn’t even take particularly strong pressure, so this is a fairly common problem. Many factors can contribute to a blocked duct, such as insufficient emptying of the breast; swelling or bruising, hurried feeding or waiting too long in between feedings; positioning your baby incorrectly; alternating between nursing and bottle-feeding, and factors that don’t even include breastfeeding at all, like carrying heavy bags or even wearing a badly fitting bra.

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How does a blocked milk duct turn into mastitis?

When a milk duct becomes blocked, milk flow is restricted and remains stationary. Not being able to clear this milk can cause mastitis, which is a bacterial infection or inflammation of the breast. Just as women who are not breastfeeding can get a compressed milk duct though, women who are neither pregnant nor breastfeeding can also develop mastitis. If you are experiencing the following, you may have a severely blocked milk duct, or mastitis:

  • A red, swollen area on the breast that can feel hot and painful when touched
  • A lump or hardness on the breast
  • Flu-like symptoms, like fever, tiredness, aches and chills
  • A burning or radiating pain in your breast
  • Nipple discharge, either white or with streaks of blood

Aside from being incredible painful, if left untreated, mastitis may develop into a breast abscess, which would require urgent medical attention.  

How can a women’s health physiotherapist treat mastitis?

Blocked milk ducts and mastitis can be treated with therapeutic ultrasound, along with lymphatic drainage and Kinesiotaping. An experienced and qualified women's health physiotherapist will be trained in how to use conservative measures to treat mastitis for breast feeding mothers and improving the release of painful blocked milk ducts. A detailed medical history will be taken and the affected breast will be examined to determine the appropriate treatment. Therapeutic ultrasound (micro-massage and heat) can be beneficial in treating both blocked milk ducts and mastitis as it can help to open the ducts to reduce pain and swelling and increase circulation to improve the flow of milk. Sound waves will be delivered by the ultrasound machine to create a vibration in the soft tissues at a cellular level and heat and provide the breast tissue with a micro-massage. This helps to unclog the ducts and encourage breast drainage, which will in turn lead to the gradual reduction of signs and symptoms. Specialised lymphatic drainage massage and Kinesiotaping can further help remove swelling and inflammation by being applied along lymphatic drainage lines to work as gentle pump to assist with the drainage of the affected area.

 

Therapeutic ultrasound for blocked ducts and mastitis should be accompanied by rest and draining the breast. You may also find it useful to add hot compresses in your own time. If you have a blocked duct, this alone can sometimes prevent it from turning into full blown mastitis.

If you know, or think, that you may be suffering from blocked milk ducts or mastitis, it’s always best to seek treatment as soon as possible. You can often feel significantly better after just a couple of treatments, and you will be given valuable advice on how to prevent it reoccurring, as well as on how to help drain your breast yourself at home.