Liposuction or “lipo” is a commonly performed cosmetic procedure designed to remove fat from the body resistant to diet and exercise. Many liposuction techniques, such as tumescent, super wet, ultrasound, laser, and power-assisted techniques, are used by plastic surgeons to loosen body fat before the procedure. However, liposuction recovery is essentially the same regardless of whether laser liposuction, ultrasonic liposuction, or some other variation was performed.
Liposuction can be performed under general anesthesia (asleep) or local anesthesia (awake), which affects the recovery period immediately following surgery. General anesthesia is usually only recommended for patients undergoing extensive liposuction or is combining other procedures with liposuction, such as a tummy tuck or breast augmentation. When liposuction alone is performed, local anesthesia is typically used instead of general anesthesia.
Patients recovering from liposuction performed under local anesthesia typically do not experience the groggy after-effects associated with general anesthesia. However, many of the pain medications and sedatives prescribed to patients for use during and after liposuction do cause nausea, dizziness, and light-headedness, so patients should not drive after undergoing liposuction regardless of the type of anesthesia used.
The first few days of liposuction recovery can be messy since anesthetic and other fluids leak from the port sites, or small holes left by the device that physically removes the fat during liposuction (called a “cannula”). Many physicians recommend wearing absorbent pads to prevent stains on clothing or bed linens until the drainage has subsided.
Swelling and bruising are usually present immediately after liposuction and may take several weeks to resolve. Although bruising typically resolves within a few weeks, some swelling may linger for approximately four to six months or more. As a result, final liposuction results cannot be judged until four to six months after surgery. Numbness and hardness of the treated area may last for three months. However, prolonged, localized firmness and swelling may indicate the formation of a seroma, or fluid pocket, that needs to be drained by a doctor.
Although complete liposuction recovery takes approximately six months, barring infection or other complications, most patients report going back to work and resuming light activity about one week after liposuction. A month into liposuction recovery, sports or vigorous activities typically may be continued.
The optimal way to heal during the liposuction recovery period and ensure the best possible result is achieved; there are a few tips your surgeon may recommend.
First, wearing a compression garment (similar to binding undergarments, such as a girdle or Spanx) for two to four weeks after liposuction may help to reduce swelling and help skin contract so that it heals evenly, without unwanted folds, lumps, or creases. Doctors may also recommend supplements to reduce bruising, such as Arnica Montana and Bromelain, and lymphatic drainage massage or mechanical massage, such as Endermologie, to minimize lumps and bumps after liposuction.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s post-operative care instructions during liposuction recovery, attend your post-operative exam appointments, and communicate with your surgeon should you experience prolonged swelling, numbness, or pain.