The ABCs of Plastic Surgery: Planning for Your Recovery

The ABCs of Plastic Surgery: Planning for Your Recovery
The ABCs of Plastic Surgery: Planning for Your Recovery

In 2013, the number of aesthetic surgical procedures climbed to seven million in the United States, reaching a high not seen since the recession of 2008. Technological advances, less-invasive procedures and greater accessibility are making aesthetic procedures, (surgical and nonsurgical), far more attractive to the public at-large.

I spoke with Dr. Michael Edwards, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, about the recovery milestones for the five most popular aesthetic surgical procedures to get some insights on what to expect when planning to undergo an aesthetic procedure.

Mary Cunningham: Dr. Edwards, what general advice do you give your patients who are recovering from a surgical procedure?

Dr. Edwards: Any patient needs to be fully aware of what their procedure involves, its potential risks and, as you mentioned, what’s involved in recovery. Generally, any patient having an invasive procedure involving anesthesia needs to know five things, several which must be done in advance of their procedure.

1. You will need a responsible adult to pick you up from the surgical center or hospital and stay with you for the next 24 hours

2. Carefully follow your doctor’s instructions regarding rest and physical activity, as these both can have an impact on your outcome

3. Don’t expect an instant result. Your body will need time to heal

4. If you were a smoker before surgery don’t start up again

5. Call your plastic surgeon if you have any questions or concerns, particularly within the first couple of days.

Mary Cunningham: What are the recovery milestones for the top five procedures?

Dr. Edwards: Let’s go through them one-by-one.


Total recovery time: 4-6 weeks; longer for swelling to go down completely although you will not see the final results for weeks to months depending on how much treatment you have

Immediate care:

  • You will typically need to wear a liposuction garment for 3 to 6 weeks after surgery to decrease swelling and provide a gentle pressure.

Course of healing:

  • Might take 6 weeks to get moving fully again although your plastic surgeon will want you to not remain completely inactive to keep the blood flowing in your lower extremities

And then some:

  • Some swelling can last for 6-9 months but is usually minimal

Breast Augmentation:

Total recovery time: 2-6 weeks

Immediate care:

  • The first 48 hours are the most painful uncomfortable
  • Surgical dressings will need to be removed in the first week but this will vary depending on your plastic surgeon

Course of healing:

  • Return to work in 7-10 days, depending on the physical activity involved in your job
  • Might not be able to shower until your dressings are removed
  • Residual swelling will go down gradually over a few months

And then some:

  • Minimize strenuous activity for the first 6 weeks
  • No pools, spas or jacuzzis for about 4 weeks
  • Intimate contact should be limited to what feels comfortable

Blepharoplasty, (Eyelid Surgery):

Total recovery time: 10-14 days

Immediate care:

  • Plan to stay home immediately after surgery and the following day
  • Per doctor’s instructions, apply a cold compress to manage swelling
  • In 2-7 days stitches will be scheduled to come out
  • The eyes may have dark circles, and look akin to a 'black eye' during the first few days and in some cases up to a week

Course of healing:

  • Bruising will start to diminish after two weeks
  • Avoid bending over, strenuous activity, and exercise, including swimming

And then some:

  • Activities that dry the eyes should be kept to a minimum, including: watching TV, staring at a computer and wearing contacts for the first week or so depending on your plastic surgeon

Tummy Tuck:

Total recovery time: up to 6 months; active recovery time, 2-3 weeks

Immediate care:

  • Your plastic surgeon may encourage you to stay overnight in an overnight care facility
  • Arrange for 2 days of in-home help
  • You should expect to have 1 or 2 drains which will need to be checked multiple times a day
  • Plan for several days of bed rest, resting quietly the first few days although you will be given specific instructions to walk in your house and move your legs to decrease the risk of complications
  • The first week will be the worst, you will not feel like yourself for the first 10 days
  • Sutures may will be removed in 1-2 weeks unless they are the dissolving type
  • Plan to take at least 2 weeks off from work, likely refraining from social activities as well

Course of healing:

  • Ask your surgeon before taking any alcohol, as it may interfere with medications
  • Maintain your medication schedule
  • 4-6 weeks, avoid picking up anything heavy, greater than 10 pounds, children and laundry baskets included
  • Swelling will begin to diminish after 5 weeks
  • Wear a compression garment as directed by your plastic surgeon for several weeks as this will help with swelling and healing

And then some:

  • It takes several months to evaluate the aesthetic results

Rhinoplasty (Nose Surgery):

Total recovery time: 1-2 weeks

Immediate care:

  • You may wear a nose splint to support the nose
  • Surgical packing will be removed after 4-7 days, per the surgeon's instructions
  • Splint and bandages come out in 7-10 days if the inside of your nose was treated

Course of healing:

  • After 10-14 days bruising and swelling will improve
  • Depending on pain, limit activities for the first few weeks per your plastic surgeon’s instructions

And then some:

  • By 3 weeks, most activities can resume
  • It may take several months before it's safe to engage in athletics
  • Plan to protect your newly reshaped nose from direct sunlight for a few months
  • Minor swelling of the nose can persist for up to a year, but it will be unnoticeable to most

Mary Cunningham: What is the aftercare that a patient should adhere to following their procedure?

Dr. Edwards: While cosmetic procedures focus on aesthetics, these surgeries are no less significant than other medical procedures in terms of invasiveness and recovery protocol. To achieve optimal results with long-term success of the procedure, it is vital to follow your surgeon's orders for care of dressings, sutures and medications. With that in mind, plan to avoid alcohol while on prescription pain medications, as there may be drug interaction implications. After any procedure, know that follow ups are necessary, and should be scheduled and attended per your doctor's recommendation.

Since each patient heals differently, never hesitate to contact your doctor's office with questions. Managing pain and avoiding complications is the first priority. Make a healing plan that accounts for major recovery milestones. Remember to ease into your normal routine, and allow your healing to be goal #1.

About the Author

Mary Cunningham is a health and wellness writer and co-founder of the lifestyle site, Girl Around Town and travels regularly between New York, Austin and Houston. She loves speaking about the beauty we have inside and how to do the inner work to let that beauty radiate. Prior to leaving the corporate world to start her own company, Mary worked at the GRAMMYs in Los Angeles, before moving to Manhattan, where she joined Nokia's Digital Music Department.