Liposuction is the second most popular cosmetic surgery treatment, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
It’s a major procedure that removes unwanted fat in certain areas of your body. Your doctor performs this surgery by sculpting and contouring the areas of your body to permanently remove fat cells.
The areas of your body that receive this surgery commonly include your:
It’s important to note that there are limits to the volume of fat that can be safely removed (about 5 liters), especially for an outpatient surgery.
If you’re considering liposuction, here’s what you need to know about the recovery process, including how long it will take, and tips that may help you heal faster.
According toboard certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Rady Rahban, recovery can be broken up into two categories: immediate and long-term.
“Immediate recovery, meaning when you can go back to work, depends on the areas that are liposuctioned and the technique used,” he explains.
This can take anywhere from 5 to 7 days before you can return to work and 4 to 6 weeks before you can get back to physical activities, such as exercise.
A long-term recovery typically lasts 3 months. This allows swelling to decrease.
Surgery recovery stages
- Immediately following surgery. Your doctor will use a compression garment to put pressure on the areas that had liposuction. “When we perform the surgery, we use a solution that has anesthetic in it, so initially it isn’t that uncomfortable,” says Rahban.
- A few hours post-surgery. Once the anesthetic wears off within a couple of hours, moderate discomfort usually begins. The level of soreness depends on the area where you received liposuction. It is recommended that you stay overnight at the hospital so that your doctor can observe any fluid changes and dehydration.
- At 3 to 5 days post-surgery. You’ll go back to your doctor to remove the garments, and they will check on the cannula incisions.
- First week and beyond. “After the first week, we ask patients to do a gentle massage to move around accumulated fluid, smoothing over the area,” says Rahban. “And then, over the next several weeks, one can expect swelling to incrementally decrease over time.”
Keep in mind that the recovery process varies for everyone and the type of liposuction that was performed.
These tips can help you feel more comfortable during recovery. They may also help you heal faster.
First, you’ll want to wear a compression garment to promote comfort and healing.
“Use of compression garments in the first 72 hours after liposuction is critical in accelerating the drainage of large volumes of anesthetic fluid, speeding up the recovery process, and reducing pain, swelling, and bruising,” explains Dr. Daniel P. Friedmann, MD, FAAD, board certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon at Westlake Dermatology.
“Surgeons vary in the duration they recommend for compression garments, but it’s typically worn for 4 to 6 weeks to prevent bruising and help the skin adhere to its new contour,” adds Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin and attending dermatologist and dermatological surgeon at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York.
- A few hours after surgery, you will feel sore. This is a good time to get your blood flowing by getting up and walking around. This type of light exercise should be repeated as you recover.
- After you take off your bandages, Rahban suggests icing the areas of liposuction to ease any discomfort.
- Take anti-inflammatory medications for pain relief.
- Lymphatic massage can help decrease swelling. Try this 1 week after liposuction.
You don’t want to push yourself too hard while recovering from liposuction.
Rest is important, especially in the first 3 days of recovery when the incision(s) site is left open to drain anesthetic fluid.
During this time, Friedmann says that immersion bathing of any kind should be avoided until incisions have closed completely, which takes approximately 7 to 10 days.
Working out or doing strenuous activities is not recommended during recovery, according to Sobel. You should, however, walk around to get your blood flowing.
In addition to light exercise, such as walking, you can resume these activities 24 hours after surgery:
- household activities, such as cleaning
- desk work
Even if you don’t feel a lot of discomfort, Rahban cautions that you don’t resume regular activities too soon.
“Liposuction is a surgery like any other surgery, and therefore, you need to be careful to not be overly active too soon as it will cause extra swelling and more discomfort.”
As with any cosmetic procedure, complications can occur.
While oral antibiotics and proper wound care help prevent infection, these additional complications, although some rare, could happen:
- redness or discoloration
- skin irregularities rippling and contour deformity
- sharp pain, including in your nerves
- skin necrosis (the death of your skin cells)
- reactions to anesthesia and other medications
If you experience any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor immediately. It’s so important that you choose an experienced surgeon to perform your liposuction, which may help prevent these symptoms.
Sobel recommends choosing a board certified plastic surgeon who specializes in cosmetic procedures. “The procedure must also be performed in an accredited surgical facility only.”
According to Friedmann, your doctor should stay in close contact with you to help ensure your smooth recovery. This includes scheduling a follow-up appointment after the first few days, and staying in close contact over the following weeks.
You should also reach out to your doctor if you experience any of the above complications. No matter how big or small, any concerns you have should be addressed by having an open dialogue with your healthcare provider.
Liposuction is a plastic surgery procedure that removes unwanted fat from a person’s body. But as major surgery, there are steps and precautions that must be taken to ensure a smooth recovery. This includes:
- avoiding strenuous activity for the first few weeks
- using a compression bandage
- doing light exercise, such as walking
You should also keep in contact with your doctor (preferably a board certified one) to address any concerns and avoid complications. They can help address your specific needs before and after treatment.