Tips for enhancing recovery from cosmetic surgery


Cosmetic surgery recovery should be as prompt as is reasonably possible. Qualified surgeons can take steps to help make that so.

Today’s cosmetic surgery patient is vitally interested in rapidly returning to normal activity. We’ve modified many of the procedures we carry out at our Center to help enhance early recovery. Utilization of lasers, electrosurgery, and injection techniques assist the surgeon in reducing bleeding and postoperative swelling. Improvements in postoperative care also matter greatly. Remember that recovery is a team effort involving both the surgeon and the patient. These are some of the things that have helped speed recovery at the Facial Plastic and Cosmetic Surgical Center.


One of the most important modifications in surgical technique over the past several years is the use of tumescent infiltration. Tumescent infiltration involves the injection of fairly large quantities of fluid. To this fluid we add small amounts of medication to constrict blood vessels and thereby prevent bleeding. This technique reduces operative bleeding to a fraction of what we used to see years ago. This has the direct effect of minimizing postoperative bleeding and swelling.


Another innovation that has helped reduce bleeding is the the carbon dioxide laser, used as a cutting tool. This instrument allows for bloodless dissection. It has been particularly useful in eyelid and nasal surgery. In eyelid surgery, the technique often results in a little or no bruising and much more rapid recovery. This is also true in nasal surgery. An added advantage is the increased precision afforded by this technique. Lasers are also very helpful in facelift surgery, where they are used to dissect out the deeper layers of tissue. Since we are working close to delicate nerves and vessels, the combination of surgical lasers and magnification enhances safety.


In the past, bulky pressure dressings were commonly used after surgery. We have found these dressings not only to be unnecessary, but counterproductive. By avoiding pressure dressings, we feel that swelling is significantly reduced. Patient comfort is enhanced and, as an added advantage, we can detect problems at an earlier stage. Furthermore, we avoid the need for uncomfortable dressing changes. Not only do we generally avoid bulky dressings, but post-surgical drains, as well. An abdominoplasty is the one exception to this general rule.


While surgical technique has much to do with recovery time, postoperative care is equally important. Of course each operation is different. But there are some general rules that apply to all surgery. In general, patients seem to recover faster when they resume activity soon after surgery. Of course, we don’t necessarily mean full activity. But it is certainly better to be up and about rather than lying in bed for long periods of time. This help to prevent blood clots in the leg. And it also stimulates the general circulation and enhances recovery. Patients who have facial surgery should attempt to keep their head elevated as much as possible. They may find it helpful to sleep sitting in a recliner for the first few nights.

As a general rule, cold packs are helpful in preventing swelling. Therefore they are most useful during the first few hours after surgery. After a day or so, warm packs tend to be more useful. Warm packs stimulate the circulation and help to resolve swelling. Since many patients have numbness after surgery. That being so, it is extremely important to avoid anything that is hot since it could lead to a burn. In spite of our warnings, over the years we have seen several patients who have burned their skin. They do this when they apply postoperative hot packs or heating pads.


Many drugs have been found to interfere with the normal clotting mechanism. Aspirin is a prime offender. Patients should avoid any medications containing aspirin. Do so for at least two weeks before and after surgery if at all possible. Additionally, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as Advil or Motrin also interfere with blood clotting. These should be avoided for several days before and after surgery whenever possible. Many patients are taking herbal supplements these days. Since the effect of these agents is not clearly understood, we generally recommend that patients discontinue most supplements during the time of their surgery.

An exception is the homeopathic agent Arnica Montana. Arnica has been observed to significantly reduce bruising and swelling by many patients. Thus we are currently recommending its use. Patients generally take Arnica for two or three days before and after surgery. It comes in several forms, including tablets that are swallowed or capsules that are dissolved under the tongue. Both seem to work equally well.


Nothing is more detrimental to healing than smoking. The combination of nicotine and carbon monoxide produced by cigarette smoke deprives the body of oxygen. Oxygen is needed for healing and it lessens chances of infection. This is so important that we have adopted a policy. We do not operate on patients who are actively smoking at the time of surgery.

Of course these general suggestions are only meant to be supplementary. They are intended to supplement the specifics cited by your surgeon at the time of your operation. At the Facial Plastic and Cosmetic Surgical Center we want to make your recovery as prompt as possible. We’re constantly striving to adopt techniques and procedures that enhance this goal.