Understanding Your Plastic Surgery Recovery

All patients are concerned with how long their plastic surgery recovery will take.

The three main facets of recovery are healing, activity level, and the final aesthetic appearance. Plastic surgery recovery is measured in both medical and aesthetic terms. Plastic surgery results often look good by the time you resume your usual routine, and they will continue to evolve after your incisions have healed.

How long it takes to resume activities after plastic surgery largely depends on the areas where the surgery is performed, the type of procedure, and a patient’s individual rate of healing. However, incisions are typically healed enough to gradually resume light exercise three to four weeks after surgery. Most cosmetic surgery patients return to work before that, experiencing only minor soreness. Breast reconstruction patients return to work as early as four weeks after surgery.

Recovery time after DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery is six to eight weeks. We describe it as having three phases of recovery. The patient is discharged from the hospital a few days after the surgery.

In phase 1, the patient spends two weeks at a “robe and slippers” level of activity around the home. During this time the patient is transitioning from narcotic pain tablets to Tylenol and NSAIDS like Aleve.

In phase 2, the patient spends two weeks at a “coffee cup’ level of activity. This means that the patient can do any light activity that they might be able to do with a full cup of coffee in hand. Light walks are encouraged but no housework, walking a dog that pulls, heavy lifting or other strenuous activity.

In phase 3, the patient returns to work and moderate activity with no heavy lifting or running. Swimming and fitness walking are encouraged. After this time the patient may resume normal activity. Heavy weight lifting and intense abdominal workouts are discouraged for another few weeks. Discuss these with your surgeon before resuming a strenuous fitness regimen after surgery.

Recovery time after breast reconstruction with implants or tissue expanders varies depending on the type of the mastectomy and the extent of the cancer surgery. In general, the recovery parallels that of the DIEP flap reconstruction. The patient is home healing for two weeks, followed by two weeks at a light activity level, and another two weeks of normal activity without strenuous exercise or heavy lifting. Typically after three months, the patient returns to the operating room for removal of the tissue expanders and placement of final implants. After the final implants are placed the patient again follows the same recovery timeline.

Recovery time after breast augmentation varies depending on the procedure performed and the size of the implant. Patients are often pleasantly surprised at how quickly they can resume normal, light activities after breast augmentation surgery. Most patients experience soreness in the chest and arms during the first week after surgery, but only require pain medication for the first few days. You may return to work after a week of rest. As with any procedure, you will need to wait until your tissues are strong enough to provide support before resuming lifting and strenuous exercise. After breast augmentation this requires four to six weeks.

After breast augmentation or breast lift surgery, there will be an immediate improvement in your breast contour. This contour will evolve over a three to six month period. Initially, your breasts will feel somewhat firm. By four to six weeks, the breasts will have softened and relaxed. They will settle into a more natural position as swelling goes down. If an implant is present, they will settle over several months into their final position. The healing process will continue for up to six months. We suggest waiting for at least two months before investing in a new set of high-end lingerie to ensure it will fit well once your breasts have fully settled.

Recovery time after liposuction is quicker than many other procedures. After liposuction you may see an immediate improvement in your shape, followed by a noticeable increase in swelling. This is normal and tends to peak after a week before dramatically decreasing. Compression garments that are prescribed by your surgeon will help control postoperative bruising and swelling, and will help you achieve optimal results as soon as possible. The bruising can last a week, and by week three most of the swelling is gone. By week four you can wear form-fitting clothing. It can take four months or more for the last of the swelling to resolve.

Tips for Optimizing Your Recovery and Results

There are a few things you can do to optimize your recovery after plastic surgery:

  • Choose your surgeon wisely. A surgeon’s techniques greatly contribute to a smooth, comfortable, and timely recovery, as well as beautiful results. Make sure that the procedure you want is a significant part of his or her practice.
  • Follow your surgeon’s instructions. Communicate openly with your surgeon and follow all pre- and postoperative care instructions. Adequate rest and incision care after surgery is important to the healing process. Early exercise can strain healing incisions, risk internal bleeding, and compromise your results.
  • Keep your scars out of the sun. Wear UPF clothing and a broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you go outside to prevent scars from darkening unnecessarily.

Understand that the recovery process has several phases and takes up to a year to achieve a final result. Take into account the time it takes for optimal results to appear, and the time you will need to rest and recover, so that you can safely achieve your desired result.

Christine Fisher MD – Plastic Surgery Recovery

Written by Christine Fisher MD. All rights reserved.

Christine Fisher MD

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