When performed by an experienced plastic surgeon, liposuction is considered to be a relatively safe surgical procedure. However, this does not mean it does not come without a brief recovery time. Generally, the recovery will take about 8 – 10 weeks to see a full recovery where all the swelling finally goes down, but most people are able to resume most of their normal activities within a week or less. This, of course, does not include strenuous exercise or jobs that are physically demanding, but for most jobs and daily tasks such as shopping and running errands, most people are able to resume these kinds of activities with the first week. This following article is a detailed description of the entire liposuction recovery phase, from what one can expect right after surgery to 10 weeks after surgery.
Dr. Adrian Richards Talks about the Recovery from Liposuction
Observation: 30 minutes – 3 hours
The first stage is observation at the clinic where you had the liposuction performed. If you had only local anesthesia, your observation period should be about 30 minutes; general anesthesia means they’ll want to watch you for one to three hours. During this time, the nurses will observe your blood pressure, look for signs of nausea or dizziness, and otherwise ensure that your levels of comprehension and agility are returning to normal.
The Ride Home
You’re going to want to have some essential supplies with you for the ride home. Include in your post-op kit:
- Comfy, loose-fitting clothing.
- 2-3 old, dark towels to put between you and the seats for your car ride home. It’s not unusual to be leaking tumescent fluid, blood, or other substances at this point, and it’s much easier to clean towels than it is to clean the seats.
- A couple of pillows inside of small garbage bags. The garbage bags are there to protect the pillows; the pillows are there because you’ll probably be somewhat dozy after your operation.
- A bucket or pail with a lid on it — nausea, especially motion-sickness, is common after any major surgery. Be prepared.
- Bottled water and simple crackers — to stay hydrated and help stave off nausea.
- Paper towels or wipes, just in case you do manage to leak on something important. Wipe it up quickly before it stains.
- Pain medication — probably an NSAID such as ibuprofen or Advil — is virtually mandated.
- Sunglasses. Many anesthesia medications can cause you to be light-sensitive.
- A book, MP3 player, or tablet — many people are mildly antisocial after a major operation, and some way of passing the time without having to deal with other people is probably a good thing to have.
Bed Rest: 2 Days Minimum, But With Breaks
Once home, you can expect to be quite low on energy and moderately uncomfortable for a day or two. The tissues that were disturbed during the procedure will become inflamed as part of the body’s healing process. It can take eight to ten weeks for the swelling to go down entirely; but the first two days (at least) should be given entirely over to bed rest to allow the body to go through the most severe swelling — but with a caveat. Sitting still for too long can cause blood clots to develop, so set a timer, and spend a few minutes getting up and moving every two hours. This will also help your swelling go down; an active body drains those pools of stagnant blood and lymph more effectively than a stationary one.
You will be deeply bruised at the site of the operation, and you may also feel inexplicable tingling, chills, burning, and aching sensations as the nerves damaged in the operation begin to reconnect and revitalize. Just know that this is all temporary, and if you need to rely on a pain medication, do so. You may also feel — and even look — asymmetrical. The body doesn’t heal at the same rate in all areas, so don’t expect to look perfect until the entire healing process is complete.
Generalized Rest: 4-8 Weeks
Though you can return to a typical desk job generally within a couple of days of your surgery, it’s openly suggested that you avoid strenuous activity of any kind for as long as two months after your surgery is complete. Two days is long enough to keep yourself from having ‘leaks’ from your operation site, but it hardly means you’re healed. Any kind of strain or stress can open those wounds and invite bacteria, viruses, and other complications.
During this time, you will want to drink plenty of water. Having lots of water in your system may make you feel bloated, it is all part of the healing process. Water is your body’s method of moving unwanted substances out, and that includes anything that may be getting inside of the open space left behind by your liposuction.
By the time 4-6 weeks has gone by, the vast majority of the swelling will have gone down. Swelling in the arms and calves tends to take longer than the rest of the body to go down, so if you’ve had liposuction in these areas, don’t worry if they stay slightly larger than you would like for as many as six months after the operation. If after eight months, your arms in particular are still swollen, talk to your doctor; you may have a complication of surgery called lymphedema.
Complications and Special Circumstances
If, during your 4-8 week rest period, you experience any of the following, talk to a doctor immediately:
- If you have a steady stream of thin, yellowish fluid coming from the site of an incision and it doesn’t stop within 24 hours, you may have a seroma. These are not terribly life-threatening, but they can be fairly off-putting, and your doctor can help you drain a seroma fairly easily.
- If you have blood, pus, or a foul odor coming from an incision site, you may have an infection, and you should get to your surgeon or your general practitioner immediately to have it addressed.
- If the edges of your incision sites begin to turn greenish-black, or your skin near the site turns black in a manner that is clearly not a bruise, you may have gangrene. Take yourself to an emergency room immediately.
- If you have a sudden spike in temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, unexplained convulsions, or uncontrollable dizziness, you may have a fat embolism. Again, a trip to the ER is your safest bet for a quick and healthy resolution.
- If you feel particularly weary and/or agitated to the point that it’s impacting your ability to live your life, you may be suffering from post-operative depression. Talk to your general practitioner about a short-term prescription to help you get ‘over the hump’ — just 2 or 3 weeks — and you should be OK.
Liposuction is a wonderful way to enhance your self-image, your confidence, and your life — but it does come with a minor recovery time. The most important thing is to just use common sense: Slight to moderate pain/discomfort is to be expected in the first couple days after the surgery, and you should feel better and better every day after that. Anything besides a normal level of bruising, swelling, stiffness, discomfort, etc. is probably a sign that something is wrong, and it is always better to be safe and sorry. If after 8-10 weeks you feel like you haven’t made at least a 90% recovery, then you probably want to contact your doctor, just to be safe. The recovery can be a little rocky for some in the very beginning, but it’s an operation that the majority of people find to be very much worth it in the end.