Choosing the Right Compression Garments: Plastic Surgeons' Top Picks
Surgical compression garments are just what they sound like: garments that compress upper or lower body tissues after surgery. By providing increased comfort and circulation, they help speed up the healing process.
Compression garments are most commonly associated with body contouring procedures like liposuction and tummy tucks, but are also used after facial plastic surgery.
Popular brands include Marena, Caromed and Isavela, but in some cases a simple roll of ACE bandage is all it takes to minimize the risk of excessive swelling and fluid accumulation.
We asked four top plastic surgeons about the best compression garments on the market, and how they can be used to improve post-procedure recovery. Here’s what they had to say.
How long should compression garments be used?
Compression garments are among the most important components of the recovery process for a wide variety of procedures, according to most cosmetic surgeons.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of compression dressings,” says Taylor Pollei, MD, a facial plastic surgeon with offices in Mission Viejo and Beverly Hills, California. “Something so simple can really make a dramatic difference in the surgical outcome.”
However, we found that instructions on their use can vary from one practice to another — how long and in which way compression garments need to be worn is within the surgeon’s discretion.
“It all depends on the surgical procedure, the patient’s recovery, and the surgeon’s preference,” Boston-based plastic surgeon Dr. Samuel Lin explains. “There’s no definitive consensus, with some plastic surgeons recommending patients wear compression garments for one, three, four, or six weeks. Sometimes, compression may be required for even longer periods of time.”
Some surgeons may also recommend that a more casual garment be worn after the initial swelling and bruising has subsided, although it isn’t absolutely necessary.
Englewood, Colorado plastic surgeon Greg Buford, MD feels that compression garments are most beneficial for body contouring procedures.
“During the early phases of healing, compression helps to reduce the overall swelling and maintain an even contour,” Buford says. “In my practice, we use these garments for anyone undergoing liposuction, a tummy tuck, or both.”
For facial compression garments the duration is much shorter, according to Pollei. “I prefer that patients wear the facial compression wrap for 24 hours straight following surgery,” he says. “I then see them in the office to remove the dressing and check the surgical areas.”
During this follow-up appointment Pollei replaces the dressing with a slightly less cumbersome version, which then stays in place for an additional 24 hours. At that point the patient can replace the gauze or elastic wrap on their own, or use a textile/fabric wrap if they prefer.
What makes a good compression garment?
Perhaps the most important aspect of selecting a compression garment is the fit.
“A good compression garment will fit the patient appropriately and be taut and snug, but not too tight,” says Buford. “The garment should also cover the areas treated and not leave anything exposed. When this happens, there’s often a clear delineation between the area that was covered and the area that wasn’t.”
Lin concurs: “Fit is definitely one of the most important factors, both for comfort and adequate tightness,” he says. “When selecting the right garment, it’s best to find one that fits snugly but isn’t so tight that it cuts off circulation. It should also be washable.”
According to Andrew Trussler, MD, a plastic surgeon based in Austin, Texas, determining the right fit can be challenging because doing so requires predicting the circumference of the body area post-procedure, while factoring in the patient’s height and the length of his or her trunk and limbs.
Trussler notes that other aspects such as duration of wear, color (e.g., black garments to camouflage drainage), and the location of any zippers or clasps (to avoid injuring incision lines and skin) also need to be considered.
Cost shouldn’t be too big a factor when deciding which brand to choose because in the grand scheme of things, garments are fairly inexpensive.
According to Buford, body compression garments typically cost about $150. Lin says the garments he recommends run anywhere from $30 to $150, while Pollei says the prices of facial cosmetic surgery garments typically range from a mere $5 to $30.
What works best after plastic surgery?
Some surgeons, like Buford, have a clear preference for certain brands of compression garments. “We use Clearpoint Medical garments for our body contouring patients,” he says. “We find their garments fit the best among the various brands, and are quite reasonably priced.”
Others use different post surgical compression garments for different procedures and situations. Dr. Trussler is one such surgeon — below are his top picks.
Tummy Tuck and Liposuction
Top pick: Caromed abdominal binder or above-knee to chest garment, depending on the areas of combination liposuction.
Trussler uses a black tummy tuck and liposuction compression garment because it fits well and is easy to use. His expert advice is to wear it for two to three weeks, and then transition to 12 hours on and 12 off for another three weeks. Cost: $40 to $80.
Brazilian Butt Lift
Top pick: Caromed butt lift garment with a lighter buttock cut out, which helps to compress the areas around the buttock and protects the central area of fat grafting.
“It unzips all the way to the leg so it is very easy to put back on around the buttock,” Trussler notes.
Top pick: Above- or below-knee to chest Caromed garment with a transition to Spanx after 2 to 3 weeks.
“I like the Caromed garment because it provides even compression and is comfortable and gentle on the incisions,” Trussler says. “The zipper and clasps are not sharp or firm, and they are easy to get back on.”
Cost: $80 to $120.
Arm Lift (Brachioplasty)
Top pick: ACE bandages for two to three days only, and then a sleeve for post-surgical compression for one week.
Trussler notes that it’s hard to find a comfortable sleeve that contours to the individual arms and is gentle enough on the incisions. “Most compression will promote swelling in the hands, which patients don’t like,” he says.
Cost: $15-$20 for the ACE bandages, $65-$85 for the compression sleeve.
Chest Contouring for Men
Top pick: ACE wraps for two to three days.
Trussler likes this option because it is hard to get even compression with a compression vest. After three days Trussler encourages patients to wear a tight athletic shirt under their clothing for an additional two to three weeks.
Cost: $30 for two rolls of 4″ x 5 ft.
Facelift and Other Facial Plastic Surgery Procedures
For face and neck lifts Trussler recommends patients wear a compressive but bulky Kerlix and Coban dressing for only 12 hours. He says these procedures don’t require compression, which can apparently injure the skin.
In contrast, Pollei does use compression garments for these procedures, but has no specific preference.
“Interestingly, there is no specific brand of wrap that is superior, but there are two types of wraps utilized,” Pollei says. “The first is the compression dressing placed following surgery, which usually includes gauze and some type of elastic wrap such as Coban, cling, or a similar bandage. This has the ability to absorb any drainage or blood/fluid present immediately following surgery. The second type is usually a textile or fabric-based wrap that can be removed and replaced, often with Velcro as a fastening device.”
For the second stage, Pollei usually instructs his patients to begin wearing the garment about three days post-surgery and for the next several days (or weeks if they prefer) after that. It is often worn only at night.
Remember that while compression garments may feel cumbersome at times, it’s only temporary. “Most patients are very excited to come out of the garment and start using Spanx or compression athletic wear,” Trussler says.
“You’ll most probably be wearing your compression garments for at least two weeks — the bottom line is to make sure they’re comfortable.”
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