How Much Plastic Surgery Really Hurts

No pain, no gain? Nah. New cosmetic surgery techniques are making going under the knife less uncomfortable. Here, doctors rate the ouch-factor of five popular cosmetic procedures.
Expert Opinion
Written by Lesley Rotchford
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How Much Plastic Surgery Really HurtsElnur/Shutterstock

What’s standing between you and full bust, a flat stomach, or a straight nose — or all of the above? If you’re like many people, the answer is the fear of pain. A study on attitudes about plastic surgery that appeared in the World Journal of Plastic Surgery showed that pain from surgical procedures is one reason prospective surgery patients shy away from going under the knife. But doctors say these surgical procedures hurt a lot less than you’d expect. “A good example of this is breast augmentation,” says Gregory A. Buford, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon in Englewood, CO. “I can't tell you how many patients say that their recovery was far easier than they thought it would be.”

Still, since invasive procedures involve going beneath the skin—and having stuff slipped in, sucked out, or trimmed down—there is usually some degree of discomfort afterward. general and local anesthesia ensure you don’t feel pain during the actual operation, the post-procedure pain is a big deterrent. We asked Dr. Buford and Jason Bloom, MD, a board certified facial plastic surgeon in Ardmore, PA, to reveal exactly how much each cosmetic surgery procedure hurts, how much pain to expect, and for how long you can anticipate being sore during the recovery period.

Breast Augmentation

Pain Rating: 3 to 5/10 Unlike a breast lift, breast implants are inserted into the body either over or under the chest muscle. Dr. Buford, and many other cosmetic surgeons, tend to place them underneath the muscle for a more natural look—and this technique hurts more. “The main discomfort that patients feel is related to stretching of the pectoralis major muscle and the resulting spasm,” says Dr. Buford. “To reduce pain from the procedure, I perform an Intercostal Nerve Block (an injection) right before the patient wakes up from surgery, which lasts six to eight hours. Once this wears off, the pain fibers are reset and most patients report being able to discontinue prescription pain medication as early as 24 to 48 hours after surgery.” And while you’ll probably feel well enough to go back to work after a few days, some mild soreness may linger for a few weeks as your body adjusts to the new implants.


Pain Rating: 3 to 6/10 “Like any surgery, liposuction can hurt because it involves tissue injury. But that being said, liposuction is not really a painful procedure,” says Dr. Buford. However, having lipo on multiple body parts at one time will leave you more sore than having surgery on just one area (which is why the pain rating here could potentially reach a six). Dr. Buford uses a less aggressive type of lipo called Vaserlipo®, which utilizes ultrasound to liquefy the fat in stubborn areas such as the back, stomach, hips, and thighs. “The result is better—and so is the recovery,” he says. You’ll likely feel some soreness for about a week after the procedure (similar to after working out), and then be ready to resume normal activity.

Tummy Tuck

Pain rating: 4 to 6/10 Tummy tucks can be a doozy because they affect skin, muscle, and fat. “To help reduce post-operative discomfort, I inject a combination solution of BOTOX® Cosmetic, Exparel (a long-lasting pain medication), and Marcaine (a shorter-lasting pain medication) into the internal abdominal wall before closing,” says Dr. Buford. “Most of my tummy tuck patients are off strong pain medications within a week and return to normal activities within four to six weeks following their surgery. “

Eyelid Surgery

Pain rating: 1 to 2/10 Since a blepharoplasty involves tightening up the muscles and skin above the eyes, it will leave you with some swelling and bruising for about a week. “But patients are always surprised at how little pain they feel,” says Dr. Buford. “Many of my patients never take prescription pain medication following their surgery and instead just use Extra Strength Tylenol.” If you go for a lower lid surgery too, that can increase the pain rating up to a three or four. Often those involve fat grafting to fill in lost volume under the eyes, according to Dr. Bloom. In other words, the doctor will suck fat out of your stomach or thigh and place about a teaspoon of that fat under each eye.


Pain rating: 2 to 3/10 Don’t let the nose splint and black eyes scare you: nose jobs typically aren’t very painful. The associated discomfort usually stems from congestion. “The nose feels blocked and clogged for about a week,” says Dr. Bloom. Some patients opt to take pain meds, especially to help them sleep, but many report not needing them. “After about five to eight days, patients come back in, I take the splint off, and I suction out the blood and mucus that has collected,” says Dr. Bloom. By that point in the recovery period, you may still look a little banged up, but you’ll feel perfectly normal.


Pain rating: 3 to 5/10 A facelift involves bringing the facial muscles together to tone and tighten drooping skin, “so you can expect to feel tightness in your lower face and neck for a number of weeks,” says Dr. Bloom. But since it’s more of an uncomfortable, constricted feeling as opposed to actual pain from the procedure, pain meds are only typically needed for three to four days in the recovery period.

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LESLEY ROTCHFORDis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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