Postop Tips for Cosmetic Surgery Recovery

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Beth Longware Duff, Medical Editor

Beth Longware Duff is an experienced writer and reporter whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Her health and medical writing credits include nationally distributed videos for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and she is the recipient of numerous awards including an American Cancer Society Media Award and a New England Press Association Award for Health Reporting. She holds a degree in Communications from Ithaca College.


December 22 2008

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Cosmetic Surgery Recovery Tips

The wise Chinese philosopher Confucius once stated that "Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure." His words certainly hold true when it comes to cosmetic surgery, where a little preparation for plastic surgery can pay off big time during the recuperative period that follows your procedure.

Cosmetic surgery is a major investment in time, effort, and resources by you and your surgeon, and it requires a high level of commitment both before and after the procedure itself. The postsurgical care that you receive is integral to the long-term maintenance of your new look.

Your plastic surgeon will provide you with a list of tried-and-true postoperative instructions before you leave the plastic surgery clinic or hospital where your surgery was performed. You should follow them to the letter. The general guidelines offered here are suggestions and should not take the place of anything you receive from your own surgeon or other physician.

Once you're home, begin by checking your temperature regularly. An elevated temperature may indicate an infection, so call your surgeon if it rises above 100.5 degrees F.

Take your pain meds as prescribed – this is not the time to tough it out. It's better to take them before the pain becomes severe. Some level of discomfort is to be expected, particularly during the early days of recovery, but contact your surgeon if the pain is excessive and not relieved by analgesics. Likewise, stick to a schedule for taking your antibiotics, which were prescribed to prevent infection. Unless your surgeon tells you otherwise, finish the entire prescription, even if you feel better.

Avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, and alcohol until your surgeon gives you the go ahead. If you smoke, quit for at least 2 weeks prior to and for 2 weeks after your surgery. Smoking interferes with healing and contributes to aging of the skin.

Your dressings or bandages protect the surgery site, prevent infection, and allow for healing. Specifics about how and when these coverings should be changed should be covered by your surgeon before surgery is performed.

Expect some swelling and/or bruising, especially during the first 3 days after your cosmetic procedure. Cold compresses, used as directed, help keep both to a minimum. If the swelling doesn't start to diminish after a few days, contact your surgeon.

Skin numbness is normal after surgery and may last for days or weeks. It should subside eventually. If it's a problem, let your surgeon know.

Avoid bending over or lifting anything heavy (over 10 to 15 pounds) until your doctor says you can. Contact sports are on hold for 6 to 8 weeks, or until approved by your surgeon.

There are many surgery after-care products available to help you heal comfortably and effectively. Procedure-specific care baskets are available online, but you can assemble your own with a little guidance from your surgeon's office. Some of the most often used items include:

  • Compression garments are designed to help the body reabsorb excess fluids and blood. Available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and levels of compression, they are used after a face lift, breast surgery, tummy tuck, liposuction, and thigh lift.
  • Breast surgery bras are soft, comfortable front-closure bras that provide extra support to stabilize breast implants. Some surgeons recommend the use of sports bras, which are more widely available.
  • Ice masks and packs and heating masks and pads may be prescribed to reduce redness, swelling, and bruising and numb tenderness (cold) or to provide moist or dry heat (hot).
  • Pillows and/or elevation devices prop you up as needed. Upper body surgery (face or breasts) often requires that you sleep with your head and shoulders elevated, while elevating legs after abdominal surgery can encourage proper healing. Have plenty of pillows or wedges on hand to find the most comfortable arrangement for you.
  • Scar treatment ranges from creams and gels to silicone gel sheeting and surgical tape. All are available at pharmacies or online surgical product websites. Ask your surgeon for recommendations for products to treat your scars.
  • Camouflage make-up and concealer can compensate for lingering swelling and bruising and for some scarring. Plastic surgery specific make-ups contain SPF 20 or higher to protect your delicate healing skin from the sun. Ask your surgeon for recommendations and directions for use.
  • Oral care products are helpful for recovering from oral surgery, oral dentistry, or any facial procedure that requires incisions in your mouth. Products include irrigators, swabs, wipes, and antiseptic mouthwash.
  • Homeopathic healing aids like arnica and bromelain are popular for reducing inflammation and bruising. Clear any homeopathic, over-the-counter, prescription medications, or supplements with your surgeon first.
  • Sun protection products encompass hats, scarves, sunglasses, and sunblock. The sun can damage skin and worsen scarring, so protect your skin by covering up whenever you go outside.

It's crucial to keep all postoperative appointments with your surgeon, and let him or her know about any concerns you may have.

Finally, allow your body adequate time to heal before evaluating the results. Healing is a slow and not-always steady process that requires rest and patience. It may take months or even up to a year for the final results to emerge. Your surgeon will be a valuable source of information on when you can expect to see the new you.