Lipo. We’ve all heard of it and know a friend or celebrity who has had the procedure, but what does this classic plastic surgery procedure actually entail? Let’s run through some quick basics. Liposuction is a surgical procedure to remove excess fat for body contouring. It can be performed on fat deposits in the neck and jaw, arm, leg, abdomen, butt, and may even be appropriate for other less commonly addressed body areas not listed here.
There are several different types of liposuction including: tumescent, power-assisted, radiofrequency-assisted, ultrasound-assisted, laser-assisted, water jet-assisted, and liposculpture. There are some differences in the invasiveness and, therefore, recovery from the differing assisted liposuction approaches. However, in general, the recovery period will look the same. More information on each type can be found on their respective procedure pages.
What to Expect During Liposuction Recovery
So, what’s it actually like to create your dream body contours? All candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this plastic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and how your body naturally heals, one to two weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be looking your best.
Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia, if that is a component of your liposuction. Many people feel nauseous, drowsy, and slightly disoriented in the hours following anesthesia. These side effects resolve quickly, as the sedating medications wear off. Even so, it is a part of the immediate post-surgical recovery.
The Ultimate Liposuction Recovery Timeline
Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of liposuction recovery. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to possibly reduce the intensity of your post-op experience and then we’ll look at what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, and months. Remember, there will be timing differences between liposuction technique procedures, but they’re not significant enough to break down here.
It should also be noted that your cosmetic surgeon should provide comprehensive pre- and post-op instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical team. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.
- Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
- Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), compression garments, and any medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments). Check out our complete guide to recovering from cosmetic procedures in comfort and style to learn more.
- Depending on how you react to anesthesia, you may feel drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. Even those of us lucky enough to tolerate anesthesia well should expect to feel sore and swollen. Your throat and mouth will be dry and you may have a bit of a tension headache. These immediate side effects should wear off within a few hours.
- Remember that part of your general anesthesia is usually stronger pain medications that will have you waking up with numbness but not sharp pain. As these medicines get worked out of your system, you should expect to feel a more intense (but not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medicines are most appropriate for you post-op.+
- So, you hopefully got some sleep while keeping pressure off of whatever area you had treated. You ideally kept an ice pack and your pain or inflammation meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also for keeping inflammation down. This promotes faster recovery.
- You’re probably feeling soreness and discomfort at the treated site and you’ll be sporting some bruises.
- If you had general anesthesia, hopefully your throat is feeling better and you can tolerate some soft foods. Make sure to drink plenty of water!
- Also, it’s not unusual to have some bleeding and oozing from your incision sites. Remember that your body is working hard to heal your wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates a lot of inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.
- Remember, if possible, keep the treated area elevated to reduce swelling and enhance recovery.
Day 2 to Day 7
- If you had bandages they will most likely be removed within 48 to 72 hours.
- During this first week just try to take it easy in your daily activities. Don’t plan to attend a CrossFit class or ride a century on your road bike. Gentle exercise that doesn’t overly stretch or place pressure on the treated areas is ok. Think walking and light stretching.
- Most candidates return to work within a day or two of their procedure. This varies by individual.
Week 2 to 3 & Beyond
- Ok, so now you can probably start thinking about getting back to your regularly scheduled life and normal activities. Work, chasing toddlers, and exercise that gets the heart pumping generally become ok for most individuals during this time.
- Results from liposuction are immediately noticeable, but will settle over the first few months. Remember, lipo results are significantly affected by weight changes and aging.
Tips to Improve Your Liposuction Recovery
Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with liposuction surgery, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your healing journey as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Like we mentioned, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are definitely some universal truths that augment healing.
1. Be Mindful & Be Patient
We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit if you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.
2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated
This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your entire being will thank you for it.
Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off after a major surgery.
3. Elevate, Compress, & Ice
Cold compresses and keeping your treated area elevated (if possible) will lessen blood flow to the area and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your surgical sites. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow. If recommended by your surgeon, be sure to wear compression garments as prescribed.
4. Moderate Your Activities
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, three days after your liposuction is not the time to begin your Iron Man training regimen. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the days following a major surgery.
Liposuction Side Effects & Complications
So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a liposuction procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every liposuction patient should expect at least one to two weeks of bruising and noticeable swelling. Tightness, itchiness, and discomfort around the treated sites are also common.
While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the subcutaneous tissues (fat cells) are a possible complication of liposuction and may lead to tissue necrosis. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain at the treatment area, asymmetry, blood clot formation in surrounding blood vessels, and scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.