After months of research, you've finally decided to go through with elective surgery. This tends to be the stage when patients become most nervous because they don't know what to expect. It's normal to feel nervous! Read your pre-op packet closely and make a list of any questions you have so that you can ask your surgeon at your pre-op appointment. Also, keep in mind the top 5 things to expect after plastic surgery, listed below. We've included a special focus on facial plastic surgery (our specialty) as well as some of our best insider tips to help speed up the recovery process.
1. You will feel like you just had surgery.
After the surgery, your caretaker will drive you home and you’ll most likely just want to lay either in bed or on the couch. Let’s face it, you’re going to feel crummy for the first 24 hours after plastic surgery. Surgery is a little different than going to the spa for a facial, but trust us, any initial discomfort is totally worth it! You are going to love your results!
As any drugs given to you at the surgery center begin to wear off, you may feel some pain and general discomfort. It’s normal for your face to feel tender and sensitive. Before you take the pain medications that your plastic surgeon prescribed, try to get something in your stomach. We recommend bland, soft foods that are low in sodium (to prevent extra swelling) like applesauce and crackers. Taking pain medications on an empty stomach can result in nausea, so it’s best to get ahead of the game.
Speaking of nausea, if you underwent general anesthesia, it is completely normal to feel nauseated as you wake up. Insider tip: Tell the nurse as soon as you feel nauseous, because there are medications they can give you to help! It’s also normal to have a sore or itchy throat for the first day or so, which is why we recommend that you have a throat spray or lozenges on hand to soothe your throat.
2. Bruising and swelling are the biggest (and most annoying) part of the recovery process.
Bump your knee against the table and you run the risk of a bruise and some swelling. Bruising and swelling are part of your body’s normal healing process. When you undergo plastic surgery, the healing process is just a bit more, well, pronounced. (Again, you just had surgery!)
In the days after plastic surgery, you will see discoloration and even deep purple or black bruising on your face and neck, sometimes even spreading down to the chest. If you underwent rhinoplasty or blepharoplasty surgery, you may get black eyes. Don’t worry, the bruising is 100% normal and will go away in about seven to ten days. Insider tip: Over the counter supplements such as Arnica can help speed this process up.
Increased facial swelling in the days following your surgery is completely normal. Swelling can make your face feel really tight and will also distort the results of facial plastic surgery, so don’t worry if the area operated on looks worse at first – this is normal. If you had a facelift, it’s crucial that you wear the compression wrap as instructed to reduce swelling. If you had a blepharoplasty, icing your eyes is key to help prevent them from temporarily swelling shut. Insider tip: A bag of frozen peas works best for icing after facial plastic surgery. Buy two and keep one in your freezer so that you can rotate them out!
Nearly eighty percent of the swelling will go down in the following weeks after your plastic surgery, but that still leaves about fifteen to twenty percent of swelling. The remaining amount can take months or even up to a year to fully subside. This gradual process is most pronounced in the tip of the nose after rhinoplasty surgery. Most rhinoplasty patients will notice that the tip of their nose has increased in size after their procedure, but that’s only because the tip usually holds the most swelling and takes the most time to go down.
Swelling also fluctuates. You may say, “Finally, the swelling is gone!” only to go to the gym and feel swelling and even some throbbing. This is your body’s way of saying, “slow down, not yet.” Back off from whatever you are doing and make a mental note to give yourself a bit more time to heal and recover. In general, your plastic surgeon will ask you to avoid physical activity (or anything that raises your blood pressure) and to keep your head elevated as much as possible for the two weeks following surgery, but listen to your body and extend that time as necessary.
3. Pay attention to the incision site.
You have an important role to play in how the incision heals. It’s important to keep the incision clean and moist, which is why we tell our facial plastic surgery patients to gently cleaning off any scabs with half-strength hydrogen peroxide and using antibiotic ointment liberally to keep the incision site moist.
Post-op care for facial plastic surgery often revolves around the incision site, but patients tend to focus on the wrong things. Clear or blood-tinged discharge is completely normal. A pink incision line is actually the sign of a nicely healing incision. Light bleeding is normal.
What you should be on the look out for is yellow or pus-like discharge, an angry, red incision site and a fever above 101.5 Fahrenheit – all symptoms that may indicate an oncoming infection. Infection is a risk with any surgery and sometimes those pesky bacteria get the best of us, despite our best efforts to the contrary! Your plastic surgeon needs your help to watch for signs of infection at home and to call right away with any concerns.
4. Tingling or numbness can last up to a year.
Tiny nerves are distributed throughout the tissues of your face. During facial plastic surgery, it’s not uncommon that some nerves are cut, just by the nature of the surgery. The nerves will regenerate, but it takes time. Larger nerves are sometimes stretched. When this happens, numbness or diminished sensation can ensue for a period of weeks to months depending on the amount that is stretched. If you having a tingling sensation or feel numb in one area of your face, don’t worry, normal sensation will come back over time, but it can take up to a year.
In addition to tingling, brow lift patients usually feel sporadic sharp pain, pulling, burning or cold sensations on their forehead in the days and weeks after their brow lift. Don’t worry, this is all normal and expected.
5. The recovery process is a journey, not a race.
As mentioned in our top 10 do’s and don’ts of plastic surgery, we all want instant gratification, but recovery from facial plastic surgery is a journey, not a race. The body’s healing process is not only complex and involved, but it also is unique to each person. Be patient with yourself and the process.
Nine times out of ten, what you are experiencing is normal and will improve and resolve over time. A simple explanation of the healing process, based on your plastic surgeon’s many years of education and experience, can help alleviate your fears. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns. We’d rather share our knowledge with you than have you worry unnecessarily.