Physical Therapy Tricks for Plugged/Blocked Milk Ducts


As a Physiotherapist (aka Physical Therapist) and expectant mother, I find myself increasingly interested in the physical challenges faced by new mothers and their babies. The rapid growth that occurs for both mom and baby creates unique physical demands that are typically without parallel in normal everyday life. These physical demands can lead to a variety of disorders ranging from pelvis / sacroiliac instability in mothers due to rapid weight gain and hormonal changes that result in ligament loosening (also known as laxity), to a stiff and crooked neck in infants (Torticollis) which a baby can have upon birth, or acquire in the weeks that follow.

Physiotherapists have an impressive toolbox of techniques for treating a wide range of orthopedic conditions including those mentioned above. One little-known indication for physiotherapy, which I have treated with great success, is blocked milk ducts in nursing mothers. While this issue clearly does not fall within the typical assortment of orthopedic conditions and sports injuries that have become synonymous with physiotherapy, physiotherapy modalities including therapeutic Ultrasound and massage techniques can be extremely effective in clearing clogged ducts.

Blocked milk ducts can be painful and are always distressing. Symptoms include tender, reddish and warm areas of the breast, with progressive loss of milk. Although the cause is not always clear, it is believed to commonly arise from the accumulation of dried milk within the network of Lactiferous ducts. Risk factors for developing blockage include incomplete or infrequent drainage due to short or infrequent feeds, and prolonged pressure from straps, seatbelts or tight bras. In most cases, mothers can self-treat blocked milk ducts using a few easy strategies (as also recommended by the Canadian Breastfeeding Association):

  1. Nurse your baby often day and night to completely drain the breast.
  2. Massage the breast to loosen the blockage during nursing.
  3. Wear non-restrictive clothing.
  4. Soak your breasts in warm water with Epsom salts for 10 minutes before each feeding (a handful of salt in 2-4 litres).
  5. Try different feeding positions including leaning over your baby.
  6. Eat healthy and drink lots of water.

If the condition persists for more than 2-3 days then physiotherapy may be warranted. By applying painless therapeutic Ultrasound supplemented with manual massage techniques, blocked ducts will typically be relieved in a 1-2 sessions with your registered physiotherapist. (You may want to ensure that your physiotherapist has experience in treating this condition). Please check with your Physical Therapist or Family Physician before implementing the practices suggested in this article.

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