What is Recovery Like After Liposuction?

With today’s less-invasive liposuction technology, improved surgical techniques, and tiny incisions, recovery after liposuction is relatively easy compared to many other body contouring procedures. However, most patients are first-time liposuction patients—results tend to last with a stable weight and healthy lifestyle—and therefore only have a vague idea of what recovery is like. In my experience, my Richmond liposuction patients who know what to expect enjoy the smoothest and fastest recoveries, so I thought I’d provide an overview for those of you considering liposuction to improve your shape and address stubborn fat.

First things first: how long does liposuction recovery take?

Total liposuction recovery time depends on many factors, including:

  • The areas you’re having treated
  • How much fat your plastic surgeon removes
  • Your plastic surgeon’s skill and technique
  • How well you follow your plastic surgeon’s instructions regarding activity restriction, compression, scar care, and medications/supplements to take and to avoid
  • Whether or not you smoke. In short, don’t! Smoking impairs healing, which can lead to infection, poor scar appearance, or other complications.
  • Your natural, individual healing rate

That said, there are some general experiences that all liposuction patients can expect to share.

The first few days: expect soreness, fatigue, and a follow-up visit with your plastic surgeon

In most cases, liposuction is an outpatient procedure performed with general anesthesia. This means you will go home within a few hours after surgery, but you will feel groggy or a bit “out of it” for a day or so. This also means you’ll need a responsible adult to drive you home from your procedure and stay with you for the first 24 hours. Soreness and bruising typically peak about 3 to 5 days post-op and then begin to diminish more each day.

My patients go home with a compression garment over their bandages, which provides support and protection, helps decrease swelling, and encourages better long-term liposuction results. Compression should be worn for at least 2 weeks, except when showering.

Most plastic surgeons like to see their patients a few days after their procedure to make sure everything is going well and change the dressings over the incision sites. I also urge my patients to get up and take short, frequent walks as soon as possible after surgery—this reduces risk of blood clots, alleviates stiffness, and will help you feel better faster.

When can I shower after liposuction?

Most patients receive the much-welcome green light to shower within 2 to 3 days after liposuction. However, this means shower only, not bathing—while incisions close quickly, they are still vulnerable to infection if submerged in a bath, hot tub or any body of water.

Weeks 1 to 2 post-op: back to work and most social activities

If you have a desk job, you’ll probably be ready to return to work within one week after liposuction. More physical jobs will require more time off to avoid straining your incision sites, which can lead to bleeding or suboptimal results. Your plastic surgeon will give you a specific “back to work” timeframe based on your individual procedure and the type of work you do.

When will swelling go down after liposuction?

By the 2-week mark, soreness is usually reduced to a minor annoyance, and swelling is receding noticeably. Most patients no longer need prescription pain medication after the first 3 to 7 days, if they need it at all. DO NOT DRIVE until you have finished taking prescription pain meds (and it is probably best not to try and work until then, either).

Weeks 3 to 4 post-op: getting back in the swing of things (with slimmer body contours!)

After about 3 weeks, as long as your plastic surgeon feels your recovery is going well, you can can expect most activity restrictions to be lifted. You may still need to wear your compression garment at night or while participating in physical activities—many patients actually prefer wearing compression as they ease into their exercise routines for support.

Post-op soreness and bruising are typically almost gone by one month post-op, and swelling should be dramatically reduced—your new, slimmer body contours are taking shape, and while results won’t be final for a couple more months, they’re pretty close!

How long before I can exercise after having liposuction?

Time off from exercise depends on the type of activity you want to do, but there’s one universal rule: you must start back slowly! When you resume any activity, start back at 50% effort or less at first, and gradually increase duration and intensity over several weeks or months. Also, avoid any activity that hurts or strains your incision sites. While you may look and feel fantastic by now, your body is still healing. Be patient—you won’t lose too much fitness.

For activities such as hiking, cycling, or yoga, most patients can safely ease back in at about 3 weeks. Your plastic surgeon may have you wait a few extra weeks before returning to intense sports such as Crossfit, obstacle course racing, or martial arts. Swimming, while low impact, presents a risk of infection to healing incisions, so stay out of the pool for 4 to 6 weeks.

About 3 months post-op: life’s back to normal and results are close to final

By the 12-week mark, “feelable” effects of surgery such as soreness, tightness and numbness are normally gone, and patients are back in full swing with physical activities. Scars are also becoming thinner and less conspicuous, but may stay pink for up to a year. Also, this is the point where swelling is mostly gone and results are usually so close to final that the only people who will notice further changes are you and your plastic surgeon. In other words, it’s now safe to invest in wardrobe upgrades to show off your improved shape.

6 months post-op: you’ve reached the finish line!

With most liposuction patients, residual swelling is gone and scars are significantly faded by their 6-month anniversary after surgery. Now it’s up to you to ensure your new shape lasts. While liposuction removes fat cells, and treated areas will be less inclined to put on fat than before, you can still gain weight after liposuction. You are just likely to put it on in a different pattern.

If you’ve already committed to a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good overall self-care, maintaining a stable weight and your results shouldn’t be too difficult—just keep doing what you’re doing.

Have more questions about liposuction recovery? Get in touch!

As a board certified Richmond plastic surgeon, I love helping patients learn more about their options to achieve their aesthetic goals and enjoy greater confidence in their appearance. If you’re interested in learning more about liposuction surgery and recovery, please contact me for a personal consultation. I look forward to hearing from you!