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Recovering From Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery

Like many surgery recoveries, reconstructive or cosmetic surgery recovery can be a stressful, confusing, and sometimes painful experience. Patience plays a large role in the recovery process for most patients. Regardless of the length of your recovery, there are ways to make sure your surgery recovery process is uncomplicated and as painless as possible.

What are some common pre and post-surgery mistakes?

One of the most common post-surgery mistakes patients make is relying on information from sources other than their provider. Some might rely on the experience of a friend who had a similar procedure or conduct their own research about their recovery. While these sources can seem helpful, they can be misleading or inaccurate. Trust your doctor to know your specific case better than anyone. If you have questions, rely on the materials they provide for you or give them a call.

Post-surgery, patients often want to use ointments or herbals on their scars; however, it’s often best not to put anything on the incision unless instructed. Applying certain ointments, creams, or oils to new scars or incision sites, especially soon after surgery, could contaminate the incisions or cause the closure material to separate. This causes wounds to heal slower and increases your risk for infections.

Other common mistakes include improper care and tracking of post-surgery drains, using nicotine products (e.g., smoking, vaping, nicotine patches) before and after surgery, and using supplements not prescribed by a provider before surgery. Be sure to understand the risks associated with opioid use after surgery and try to stagger your pain medication. Doctors will often prescribe pain medication like acetaminophen and ibuprofen as a routine combination with opioids to prevent overuse or addiction.

How can you prepare for recovery?

Make sure you clean your house, grocery shop, and run all necessary errands before surgery. Prepare loose-fitting clothing that is easy to get on and off that you won’t mind getting soiled. Clothing after a procedure and during recovery might be stained from drainage, so it’s a good idea to wear anything you aren’t worried about ruining. Large, loose-fitting pajamas and button up shirts make it easier to move around and dress, especially if you need assistance dressing.

Although it’s tempting to want to face surgery recovery independently, make sure you have someone available who can help if need be, whether they are family, friends, church members, or anyone able to offer assistance. For many procedures, your doctor will require you to bring someone to assume responsibility post-procedure or overnight at the hospital. This person will need to be available and able to assist you with post-operative instruction.

Another way to prepare for recovery is to recognize healing is a process, and people heal at different rates. Often patients will expect immediate results after surgery and it typically takes a transition period. Procedures may result in swelling, bruising, and pain during the recovery process for which all patients should be mentally prepared. Patience is key as the body heals at its own unique pace.

What are some common post-operative instructions to expect?

Different incisions will be closed using various techniques and patients will be instructed on the best way to care for their incisions. These instructions will help you understand how to clean your incisions, shower, and look for possible complications. Some patients will receive drains post-surgery and are often instructed to record the amount of fluid coming out of the drains and bring that information to routine appointments. This information is valuable to the doctor after surgery to determine your recovery plan. In augmentation surgery, manipulation of the breast implants multiple times during the first month may reduce the risk of hardening around the breast.

Remember to wash your hands, especially when you or a caregiver handle wounds. Be sure to keep your wound areas clean by washing the area gently. Wound infections are more likely to occur for those who don’t clean the areas near their wounds. Often patients are nervous about touching incisions, but for most cases, washing the area(s) is okay. For some patients, doctors will instruct them to keep dressings dry. Consult with your doctor to make sure you know the best way to keep your incisions clean.

Compression garments are often used during recovery to support the site of the surgery and provide stability. It’s important to always keep these on, except while bathing, to ensure they fulfill their purpose. Use the garment the doctor recommends instead of other brands or styles. Although many garments look similar, they don’t all share the same characteristics, which means they won’t provide the same assistance. When thinking compression, one may think that it needs to be excessively tight. Quite a few patients have worried that their garments are not tight enough, even when they are checked by the physician. When the garment is too tight it can be counterproductive.

While it’s natural to think sitting still after surgery to prevent injury is needed, it does more harm than help. Not moving increases your risk of blood clots and musculoskeletal tightness. Patients don’t have to run marathons, but even moving into different sitting, standing, or lying positions can be beneficial. Moving after surgery can be painful, especially if they don’t want to use narcotics; however, pain medication can be very beneficial for getting you back on your feet.

What are some signs you may want to follow up with your doctor?

Life threatening complications during recovery are rare for cosmetic and reconstruction surgery, however, if you are exhibiting symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, you should seek immediate medical attention at an urgent care or emergency room. There are exceptions to this instruction, including patients with preexisting medical issues like cancer or other disorders.

For most concerns, however, patients should first call their doctor. If you see an opening in the skin near or around an incision, you should call your doctor. Post-surgical patients should also look-out for signs of blood clots, pain or swelling in the legs, or keloids (large, raised scar often like a knot). For those with breast implants, look for changes in the implant, including swelling, redness, dramatic size difference in a short period of time, or drainage. For patients with drains, make sure your drain is functioning normally. If a drain no longer holds a vacuum, there could be a problem.

While it is always best to consult your doctor if you have concerns, some post-surgery concerns are actually harmless parts of the healing process. Don’t be alarmed if your procedures don’t initially look symmetrical. Often different parts of the body heal at different rates. Implants might appear higher than they actually are due to temporary swelling. Additionally, absorbable sutures may develop zit-like structures close to the surface; however this is not an uncommon part of the healing process and no cause for concern. For those with drains, you might see small noodle-like structures in the drain which is completely normal.

Maintaining an open line of communication with your doctor is vital to the recovery process. Many patients experience feelings of remorse, depression, or second-guessing during the recovery process, which is completely normal. Seeking help from a doctor can help you both physically and mentally handle the recovery process.

While cosmetic and reconstructive surgery recovery might not be a glamorous process, taking necessary precautions and following your doctor’s post-operative instructions will significantly improve your recovery experience. Our doctors at TPMG will work closely with you during this process to ensure your recovery is as discreet and comfortable as possible. Talk to a TPMG cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon today to learn more about the recovery process.

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About TPMG Peninsula Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery

TPMG Peninsula Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery offers patients a comfortable and discreet environment for their procedure. We are one of Hampton Roads’ leaders in providing quality facial and body augmentation and reconstruction surgery.

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