Physical Therapy for Blocked Milk Ducts

Common and sometimes quite painful, blocked milk ducts affect many lactating women. The obstructed flow of milk is due to a blockage  within the involved duct. The result may present as pain, inflammation and a decrease in the milk supply within the breast with the blockage. When left untreated, mastitis, a bacterial infection in part of the breast or even the entire breast may occur. Symptoms of the blocked milk ducts have caused many women to discontinue breastfeeding. This does not have to be the case!

Signs and symptoms of blocked milk ducts: 

  • Painful and tender to a localized region of the affected breast

  • Inflammation of the region with the blockage

  • Region may present in a triangular shape

  • Localized redness, warm to touch and a fever =  infection

Your obstetrician/ gynecologist as well as midwife or internist will be able to diagnose a blocked milk duct. If mastitis is noted, your physician may start a round of antibiotics. Physical therapy has been proven to be quite effective and should be started within 48 hours of the diagnosis of a blocked milk duct. If an infection is noted, you must be on the medicine for 24 hours before starting therapy. 

Physical Therapy Goals and Treatment 

Physical therapy has been supported through research to  relieve the involved blocked milk ducts. This will decrease the pain and improved the effectiveness of breastfeeding or breast pumping. The improved lactation will provide comfort for mom and the amount of milk for baby. 

Treatment protocol:

  • Moist heat to the involved breast for 10 minutes prior to session

  • Ultrasound to provide deep heat and massage to the involved breast to improve  circulation and movement of milk through the duct

  • Manual therapy by a skilled therapist: gentle rolling with varied pressure 

  • Education on posture with breastfeeding and instruction on self-treatment

  • Postural exercises to prevent future blockages as well as hydration advice

It is recommended immediately following treatment to trial breastfeeding or breast pumping. Feel free to bring your baby or breast pump to therapy!

Tamra Wroblesky