Aside from thinking about the final result, one of the most preoccupying concerns when it comes to having an aesthetic procedure is how much pain, bruising, and swelling it will cause. You might consider these elements to be completely separate, but they are actually closely linked. When it comes to post-surgical discomfort, the most likely culprit is swelling. It can be difficult for providers to predict exactly how much swelling a patient will experience during recovery, but there are several strategies to help manage it. We’re breaking down exactly what post-operative swelling is, how to treat it, and what you can do to minimize it.
What Is Swelling?
Swelling is the body’s natural response to injury. Although aesthetic surgery is elective, the body still views the incision and work carried out as an injury. It kick starts the healing process accordingly. The first stage of the recovery process is the inflammatory phase, during which the body will send repair cells to the surgical site. The main symptoms of the inflammatory response are swelling and pain, with the former often causing the latter. The swelling itself is a result of the increased movement of fluids carrying white blood cells, growth factors, and enzymes to the area.
What Affects Swelling?
Several factors will determine how much swelling someone experiences after a procedure, but it can be difficult to predict. Below are a few indicators:
- The Procedure: The type of procedure you have will impact how much swelling you experience. Generally speaking, Non- and minimally invasive procedures induce less swelling than invasive and surgical ones.
- The Part of the Body: The face is particularly prone to swelling, while areas like the stomach tend to swell less.
- Genetics & Lifestyle: Your body will also have a natural tendency to swell more or less than others. These differences are mostly due to genetics, but your overall health and diet can play a part, too.
Your provider will discuss any additional risk factors with you during the pre-op workup process, and they will be able to advise on what to expect during the recovery process based on your medical history and treatment plan.
How to Minimize the Risk of Swelling
Minimizing the risk of swelling begins long before you go under the knife. Being in good physical health is important for any surgery. Your surgeon will likely have asked for several pre-op tests to make sure you are fit and healthy enough for the procedure, but staying in shape will help with your recovery, too. Some surgeons may also advise taking certain vitamins and supplements ahead of the procedure to reduce swelling. Bromelain is one popular option, as are vitamin A and vitamin C. Anti-inflammatory diets rich in whole grains, plant-based fats and proteins, fruits and vegetables, and fresh herbs and spices and low in sodium can help combat post-surgical inflammation.
How to Manage Post-Op Swelling
Needless to say, you will be given specific post-operative care guidelines by your medical team that should be followed to a T. They will include strategies to manage swelling and the discomfort it can cause like:
- Wrap It Up: If your recovery involves compression garments, be sure to wear them as instructed, as they will play a crucial role in your healing.
- Ice, Ice Baby: Ice packs (especially in the first 24 to 48 hours) are key to reducing swelling and pain. You may even be given your first ice pack before leaving the clinic.
- Stay Lifted: You may be advised to elevate the area you had surgery on, which usually means raising the torso. A wedge pillow can help keep you elevated comfortably.
- Move Around: Staying as active as possible will help reduce swelling and boost your chances of a smooth recovery. Follow your medical team’s advice on how active you can be and when you can resume different levels of activity.
Oh, and your post-op diet matters just as much as your prep-op one. You’re also going to want to stay hydrated and eat well. Staying healthy will give your body the nutrients it needs to recover optimally.
How Long Does Post-Op Swelling Last?
Depending on the invasiveness of the procedure, swelling usually peaks in the first days or weeks after a procedure and subsides from there. Even mild swelling in the days after a procedure can hide or distort the results, so don’t be disheartened if you aren’t seeing the outcome you had hoped for right away. Your surgeon should give you a good indication of how long it will take after the procedure to see the final results, so be sure to keep that in mind — especially in the first few weeks post-op.
It should be noted that residual swelling can linger for months. Most of the time, it is a natural part of the healing process and isn’t anything to worry about. But, if you notice a sudden increase in swelling, discharge, or issues with your incisions, be sure to consult with your provider. Additionally, be on the lookout for unexplained swelling in the legs — particularly if you haven’t been moving around much — as this could be a sign of more serious post-surgical complications.
Recovering from an aesthetic surgery is a very personal experience. Swelling and discomfort in the days and weeks after a procedure are natural parts of the healing process, and you will likely be given medication (prescription and/or over-the-counter) to help keep you as comfortable as possible. Following these tips and the instructions from your surgeon will help keep swelling to a minimum and ensure a more optimal recovery.
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