Thigh Liposuction: Recovery, Cost, and Results
Stubborn “saddlebags” and fat that causes the inner thighs to rub against each other are among the most common aesthetic concerns held by women. Thigh liposuction can effectively remove this excess fat, giving the legs and hips a more proportioned, pleasing contour.
Women seek thigh liposuction more often than men. This is because female hormones cause fat to deposit around the pelvis, buttocks, and thighs, whereas men tend to store excess fat in the abdominal region.
The good news is that the thighs respond better to liposuction than some other areas of the body. “The fat in the thigh has two layers, versus three in the back and trunk. This makes it ideal for liposuction,” explains Andrew Trussler, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon who practices in Austin, Texas.
Thigh liposuction is not intended to be a weight loss procedure, and is most effective on people who are close to their ideal body weight. Candidates for thigh liposuction are in good general health — people with poor blood circulation, diabetes, or weakened immune systems should not undergo the procedure.
Thigh liposuction is also more successful on patients whose skin shows sufficient elasticity to take on the thigh’s new contours post-procedure, without appearing loose or crepey.
The Procedure: Inner, Outer and Frontal Thigh Liposuction
While leg liposuction is performed in much the same way as liposuction on other parts of the body, those who undergo thigh liposuction often have different goals than patients interested in liposuction of the knees and ankles.
“Thigh liposuction patients are generally interested in volume and cellulite reduction,” explains Washington, DC plastic surgeon Earl Johnson, MD. “Knee and ankle liposuction patients are usually looking for smaller targeted areas of reduction.”
Furthermore, thigh liposuction is frequently combined with some form of non-invasive treatment such as laser or ultrasound. According to Johnson, this provides skin tightening and cellulite reduction benefits which cannot be achieved through liposuction alone.
Before coming up with a liposuction treatment plan, a plastic surgeon will assess the leg and thigh area “circumferentially” — that is, as a cylindrical structure to be viewed as a whole.
“Liposuction of the leg should wrap around the leg to decrease circumference and maintain shape without masculinizing or flattening it,” says Trussler. “The legs are a difficult area for liposuction, but it’s very commonly requested. Circumferential treatment and staying in an intermediate plane with small cannulas helps avoid contour irregularities.”
This circumferential approach is often reflected in a plastic surgeon’s determination as to which areas of the leg will benefit from liposuction. The procedure may be performed on the inner and outer areas of the thighs, exclusively or in combination, and can be combined with liposuction of other body areas. Liposuction on frontal areas of the thighs is generally avoided, however, as it can result in contour irregularities.
Local anesthesia is administered to minimize trauma and bleeding. Intravenous sedation or general anesthesia may also be used, depending on the needs of the patient. Tiny incisions are then performed in the treatment area. The surgeon inserts a thin, hollow cannula (tube) and breaks up the excess fat by moving the tube back and forth. The fat is then suctioned out with a vacuum or syringe.
Inner Thigh Liposuction
Most women interested in the procedure are seeking to achieve thinner thighs that do not touch one another. In such cases, liposuction generally addresses the entire length of the inner thigh. This ensures a consistent, well-proportioned, natural-looking shape throughout the area.
Outer Thigh Liposuction
When excess fat develops on the outer thighs — also known as “saddlebags” — the thighs create the impression of a low center of gravity, which makes the legs look short and disproportionate with the rest of the body. By performing outer thigh liposuction, a plastic surgeon can eliminate this effect, restoring a proportionate, contoured appearance.
Frontal Thigh Liposuction
The front of the thighs are not treated as often as the inner and outer thighs. In fact, many surgeons refuse to perform liposuction of the anterior thighs altogether, as it can easily produce irregularities of the skin and results in a relatively high incidence of patient insatisfaction.
However, in some cases a plastic surgeon may choose to perform frontal thigh liposuction in order to maintain balance with the rest of the thigh and leg. However, “the front thigh has different density of fat and should be suctioned in the deeper plane to avoid contour irregularity,” Trussler warns.
Recovery and Results
The decision as to which areas of the thigh and leg will be liposuctioned depends on the individual needs and desires of the patient, as well as observations on the part of the surgeon.
According to Larry Sargent, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon with offices in Salt Lake City and Bountiful, Utah, the areas of the legs most commonly treated with liposuction are the lateral and medial thighs, inner knees, calves, and ankles.
Thigh liposuction is often combined with liposuction of other body areas. “Thighs are commonly liposuctioned with the hips and flanks to improve the shape of the waist and buttock, as well as the knee region to improve the shape of the lower thigh,” says Trussler. “The fat can also be harvested and injected in the buttock to improve buttock shape and projection.”
When performing liposuction on multiple areas, it is very important to limit the amount of fat and fluid removed at one time, according to New Jersey double-board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Russell Ashinoff, MD, especially when performing the procedure in an outpatient setting. “Large volume liposuction is possible, but may require overnight monitoring in the hospital,” he says.
Recovery time varies from patient to patient. According to Trussler, patients can begin doing some cardio exercise about three weeks postoperatively, but will need to wear a compression garment to reduce swelling and bruising.
Some results will be immediately noticeable, but the final result won’t be apparent for approximately three months. “Just like with any body contouring procedure, diet and exercise is mandatory before and after the procedure to achieve the optimal result,” says Trussler.
Cost of Thigh Liposuction
Specific statistics pertaining to the cost of thigh liposuction are unavailable, but the latest statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons show the average cost of liposuction in general is $3,200.
That said, thigh liposuction costs can vary significantly. What’s more, the aforementioned fee doesn’t include separate expenses such as anesthesia, fees from operating room facilities, and other expenses. The surgeon’s fee also varies widely depending on his or her geographic location, level of experience, and the complexity of the procedure.
It should be noted that most health insurance carriers will not cover the cost of leg liposuction because it is considered cosmetic. However, many plastic surgeons offer patient financing, so make sure to ask your surgeon about this.
Cellulite, Sagging, and Other Considerations
Sargent points out that leg liposuction is not an appropriate or effective way to treat obesity or cellulite. Rather, he says, it should be viewed as a way to remove localized areas of fat in order to improve contour.
Trussler adds that although the upper posterior thigh below the buttock — also known as the “banana roll” — is a common area of fullness, it also helps to support the buttock and should therefore be suctioned conservatively to avoid contributing to buttock sagging.
And as Johnson points out, “patients should be aware that there may be small areas that might require a touch-up down the road. They should also expect some soreness.”
According to Ashinoff, complications are rare. Dealing with an expert, board-certified surgeon will minimize the risks of numbness, contour deformity, asymmetry, and bruising.
“It is not uncommon for other types of physicians, including doctors without surgical training, to offer liposuction,” Ashinoff explains. “The equipment is relatively inexpensive and it can be performed with local anesthetic, so the barrier to offering the procedure is low. Except inexperienced or improperly trained practitioners can cause catastrophic injury — even death.”
Before selecting a plastic surgeon to perform your leg liposuction procedure, consider his or her training, experience, any before and after photos you have had a chance to view, as well as testimonials from past patients. You can always be confident you’re in good hands when you choose a board-certified surgeon.
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