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Liposuction Recovery--What to Expect During the Liposuction Healing Period

Updated on February 12, 2010

Once you have bravely undergone liposuction, you must endure the liposuction recovery period.  Unfortunately, the time healing after a liposuction procedure may be uncomfortable and sometimes depressing.  The best way to have the best recovery period possible is by knowing what to expect before hand.  Continue reading to discover the recovery downtime period, possible complications, and what to do if complications occur after surgery.

Liposuction Recovery Period and Downtime

The liposuction recovery period can vary among individuals based on a variety of factors. Below is a general recovery timetable of a typical liposuction patient:

Weeks 1 and 2: May experience mild to severe pain. Most likely will have to take prescription pain medication for the duration of this period. Bandages placed on scars will need to be changed in 1-2 days after surgery. Drains and sutures are removed by your surgeon the first 5-10 days, You may also experience bruising, numbness and swelling. Some patients can return to work during this time.

Weeks 3 and 4: The pain should subside. You may still have some swelling and numbness. You can also return to light exercise. You will be able to return to work if you haven't done so already.

Weeks 4-16: You should regain feeling and sensation in the area. Swelling may continue, but the final result should be apparent no later than six months.

Recovery from liposuction will be the most uncomfortable during the first week or two, but pain medications are effective at alleviating the discomfort. You may experience sharp pains, burning, tingling, pins and needles, and heat sensations which is due to nerves healing from damage. Withing the first five days, your wounds may seep with fluid which may accompany a gurgling noise.

During the first few days, you may not want to move too much, but you should walk and move around as much as you can to prevent blood clotting. The body compression garment given to you after surgery will help to minimize swelling, and should be worn for the first few weeks. When you are able to return to exercise, take it slow, gradually working back up to your old exercise schedule.

Your body will go through many changes while you are healing--some obvious and others subtle. The new shape of your body usually becomes apparent in the first few weeks, though some swelling may remain for several months. Major weight gain or loss after liposuction can produce skin surface irregularities. Scars may appear to be at their worst during the third month. The final result may not be clear until 6 months after surgery. If liposuction recovery swelling around the arms persist after ten months, you can ask your surgeon to check for lymphedema (swelling from fluid retention).

Within the first three days after surgery, you should have your initial post-operative appointment. From then on, you should continue to see your surgeon at the 1 month, 2 month, 3 month, and 6 month mark.

Tumescent liposuction recovery

Recovery from tumescent liposuction should be a bit easier. Since general anesthesia isn't used during this type of surgery, there is less bleeding and trauma to the tissues. This makes the tumescent liposuction recovery period much faster and easier than that after a traditional liposuction procedure. Immediately after surgery, you will be able to freely and easily walk around. You may experience some pain and discomfort the next day, but the pain tends to subside as you become more mobile throughout the day. Even though pain medication is often prescribed, most patients don't need it.

During the first 72 hours after surgery, you may have a lot of drainage from the incisions, which is mostly tumescent solution. Dressing will need to be changed frequently during the first two days; by the third day, drainage should stop.

Any swelling and bruising experienced should go away within 1-4 weeks. You may also be instructed to wear a compression garment for the first few days.

You should be able to return to work and normal activities after three days.

photo source: Arnout Van Scherpenzeel
photo source: Arnout Van Scherpenzeel

How to recover from liposuction faster

There are steps you can take to ensure a faster liposuction recovery time. You should do the following:

  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration
  • Take any prescribed medications on schedule according to the doctor's instructions
  • Wear the compression garments as instructed
  • Avoid taking a bath, swimming, or sitting in a jacuzzi for a minimum of 7 days after surgery to minimize chance of infection
  • Do NOT apply ice-packs, heating pads, hydrogen peroxide, or plastic bandages over incisions
  • Reduce risk of fainting by removing compression garments slowly, stand up slowly after sitting down, have assistance during a shower, and sit down when feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Consider lymph drainage massages to prevent edema, relieve swelling, and itching. Make sure you get clearance from your doctor before having any massages.

***image by Arnout66***

Possible complications and side effects during liposuction healing period

Physical side effects/complications

Most liposuction procedures are successful with little to no complications.  However, you should be prepared just in case complications do occur.  Contact your surgeon or doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • excessive, uncontrollable bleeding
  • foul odor from incisions
  • pus or cloud discharge from incisions
  • extreme pain that cannot be relieved from medications
  • fever (temperature over 101° F)
  • forming of blisters or holes
  • inability to pass liquid and/or solid waste
  • darkening under the skin with swelling
  • extreme dizziness

You must contact your surgeon and go to the emergency room immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • uncontrollable vomiting
  • temperature over 105° F
  • lose consciousness
  • severe swelling a discoloration (apparent from normal swelling)
  • blackening of large areas of the skin that is not bruising
  • greenish-black tint around wound
  • convulsions.

If you do experience complications stay calm.  Prepare an overnight bag ahead of time just in case, and have your emergency numbers handy.  Try to have a caretaker with you during the first few days.

Emotional side effects

A period of sadness or depression is common after liposuction procedures. This can be due to the effects of anesthesia, medications, trauma, stress, and general malaise.  Pain and the inability to just "get up and go" can also contribute to depression.  You may also feel let down and second guessing whether you should have ever gotten the surgery.  These feelings are very common.

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