Zwivel's Complete Guide To Liposuction: Cost, Recovery and Results
The human body is designed to store excess calories as body fat in several very specific places such as your abdomen, back, hips, thighs, butt, and upper arms. Even your chin, neck, and cheeks can become fat reserves. Sometimes, following the healthiest diet and most dedicated fitness regime isn’t enough to eradicate those stubborn pockets of fat.
Liposuction, or “lipoplasty” as it is known in medical circles, is a safe, effective body contouring procedure that offers the following benefits:
- Removes excess fat
- Improves the overall shape of the body
- Reduces the risks of weight-related health issues, such as heart disease and stroke
- Boosts self-confidence
This guide provides you with all the information you need to be cognizant of before scheduling your first liposuction surgery consultation.
Table of Contents
- The History of Liposuction
- The Benefits of Liposuction
- Ideal Candidates
- Liposuction Techniques
- The Limitations of Liposuction
- How Much Does Liposuction Cost?
- Financing: Liposuction on Credit
- Top Liposuction Preparation Tips
- What to Expect During Surgery
- Top Liposuction Recovery Tips
- A Few Words on Compression Garments
- Risks and Complications
- Maintaining Your Results
- Latest Techniques and Scientific Studies
The History of Liposuction
Modern liposuction evolved as a result of research that was performed in the late 1960s, which involved scooping or scraping the fat from the body. The results of this early work were irregular and the associated risks were very high.
It still wasn't until Dr. Yves-Gerard Illouz introduced the “Illouz Method” in 1982 that the procedure gained public recognition. This newer technique featured the suction assistance that would give the procedure its name, and liposuction as we now know it was born.
Using a blunt cannula (a thin medical tube), a sterile saline solution was introduced into the fatty tissues, allowing for easier suction removal. This method became known as the “wet” technique. This technique proved to be both reliable and relatively safe. It wasn't very long before modifications were made to the procedure, and throughout the 1980s surgeons experimented with different incision techniques and anesthetics.
The 90s also saw more innovations made to this liposuction technique, but these were met with more skepticism and reservations. For example, ultrasound (or UAL for ultrasonic assisted liposuction) was introduced in the late 1990s as a means to make the procedure easier by liquefying the fat before removal.
There was an initial surge of interest in this new method, but it quickly dropped, only to rise again as the technology improved. However, some plastic surgeons still feel that many of the more “modern” technologies that are supposed to improve the efficacy of liposuction are little more than marketing hooks.
For a procedure that is as relatively new as liposuction, it has managed to develop a fairly wide range of names that all essentially describe the same procedure. So remember, no matter whether it's called liposculpture, lipectomy, suction-assisted lipectomy, lipoplasty, high-definition liposuction, fat modeling, suction-assisted fat removal, body contouring, or simply lipo, it's mostly likely just a marketing term that is really referring to liposuction.
Ultimately, choosing a board-certified surgeon is the best way to ensure quality results. Nevertheless, 30 years of improvement and innovation in liposuction techniques have made the removal of fat cells easier than ever before, with less blood loss, less discomfort, and significantly less risk.
The Benefits of Liposuction
Since its introduction in the 80s, liposuction has become one of the world's most popular cosmetic surgeries. In fact, liposuction remained the single most popular cosmetic surgery procedure from 1997 (when the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery began collecting statistics) until 2008, when it was finally overtaken by breast augmentation in North America.
Since then, the procedure has continued to be among the top cosmetic surgery choices for both men and women. In 2014, it briefly regained the number one spot with almost 365,000 procedures performed in the United States alone.
Women tend to be the overwhelming majority of liposuction patients, and cosmetic surgery recipients in general, making up 90.6% of all patients. But that doesn't mean liposuction can't help men too. In fact, the number of men going in for cosmetic surgery has increased over 470% since 1997.
The increasing popularity of liposuction is due to its ability to target stubborn pockets of fat that persist despite diet and exercise. Specifically, it can be used to treat the following areas:
- Front part of the knees
- Calves and ankles
- Chest and back
Additionally, liposuction can be used for breast reduction. It is suitable for women, or for men who are seeking treatment for gynecomastia.
Liposuction isn't suitable for everyone, and anyone thinking about surgery should first make sure they are a good candidate.
Ideal liposuction candidates:
- Are over the age of 18, though some exceptions can be made.
- Are in excellent overall physical and mental health.
- Are within about 25 pounds of their ideal weight – best results are achieved in those within a normal BMI range.
- Have stubborn pockets of fat that have resisted diet and exercise.
- Have realistic expectations for the results.
On the other hand, poor candidates for the procedure include:
- Pregnant or nursing women.
- People with underlying health problems that may interfere with their recovery.
- Patients on blood-thinning medications. You may still be eligible if you are able to stop taking these medications in the time leading up to the surgery, as well as during your recovery.
- People allergic to lidocaine, which is used in most techniques.
- Patients with unrealistic expectations.
Liposuction has the following objectives:
- To remove an appropriate amount of fat.
- To leave the surrounding tissues as undisturbed as possible.
- To leave the patient's fluid balance undisturbed.
- To cause the least amount of discomfort and pain.
To achieve these goals a number of different liposuction techniques have been developed over the years.
Suction-assisted liposuction (SAL) forms the basis of all liposuction techniques used today. In this method, the surgeon uses a small cannula, which is a straw-like medical tube, attached to a vacuum device.
The cannula is inserted into the body through a small incision. The surgeon then uses a forwards and backward motion to push and pull the cannula through the fat layer, breaking up the fat cells, and sucking them out of the body.
This technique is tried and true, but more modern approaches have improved upon SAL's efficiency, complication rates, and recovery time.
The name of this procedure describes a "wetting solution" that includes a local anesthetic (usually lidocaine), epinephrine, and other IV medications, diluted in saline or lactated ringers. This fluid is injected into the areas that will be treated, causing the blood vessels to shrink, and the fat to swell and harden. Bleeding is minimized during the operation as a result, and it also significantly reduces post-op pain, discomfort, and bruising.
For lesser quantities of fat removal, the administration of general anesthesia is not necessary. Tumescent liposuction is widely considered by surgeons to be both the most effective, and the safest form of liposuction currently available. Consider it the gold standard.
That being said, there are a few risks that are unique to this method. The first is lidocaine toxicity, which can occur when the amount of lidocaine in the fluid is too high and the body can't metabolize it fast enough.
The other risk associated with tumescent liposuction is fluid accumulation in the lungs. This happens when too much solution is injected into the treatment area. However, the likelihood of either complication occurring is very rare.
Power-assisted liposuction (PAL) uses a special, motorized cannula. The cannula itself moves back and forth very rapidly, so the surgeon doesn't have to make as many large manual movements.
This vibrating action actually makes the procedure easier on the body as well, since it can break up more fibrous fat tissue. This means smaller scars, more precise removal of fatty pockets thus minimizing the risk to surrounding tissue, and reduced risk of bruising or bleeding. It also makes the surgeon’s job easier, meaning this procedure is good for large-volume liposuction, and is usually even quicker than other techniques.
PAL clearly has a number of benefits, and the procedure is less risky overall when compared to some other liposuction techniques.
One innovative technical application of PAL is the “SAFE” technique, which was developed and popularized by Dr. Simeon Wall, Jr., a board certified plastic surgeon from Louisiana, as a method to minimize the risk of contour irregularities and maximize overall aesthetic outcome. “SAFE” stands for “Separation, Aspiration, Fat Equalization”, which are the three steps to the technique.
In the first step, the power-assisted liposuction cannula is tunneled through the affected area under no suction with a large flared cannula. This step is necessary to break up and separate the fat. During the second step, a smaller cannula is inserted and PAL is applied with suction, and the fat that has been separated is then aspirated. In the last step, the PAL is once again applied with a large flared cannula with no suction applied, equalizing and evening out the remaining fat.
Newer forms of the surgery have improved beyond even the PAL technique, each with the goal of diminishing the risks and side effects even further, and improving outcomes.
In an ultrasound-assisted or ultrasonic liposuction (UAL), the area to be treated is flushed with tumescent fluid, and then a different specialized cannula is used. In this case, the cannula transmits ultrasound vibrations within the body. These vibrations are able to actually burst open the walls of the fat cells, liquefying the fat and making it easier to remove.
This means UAL has the ability to target areas of denser fat deposits, such as the back of male patients. It can also remove larger volumes of fat in one session. The ultrasonic frequencies can also have a tightening effect on the surrounding skin, although it is minimal.
UAL carries a few risks. The first is associated with the high levels of heat that are created during an ultrasound-assisted liposuction. Because of this heating, there is a larger risk of burns, blistering, and scarring. An experienced surgeon will have the skill to avoid this, but it's a danger that should be noted.
Another risk of UAL that isn't as pronounced in other techniques is the development of a seroma, which occurs when the body tries to use fluid to fill the void created by removing fat. This fluid will need to be removed over and over again until the cavity closes and heals.
Ultrasound-assisted liposuction can be used anywhere on the body that is suitable for traditional liposuction, but it is best suited to those areas that need additional precision. This makes it a great option for the stomach, midsection, male breast tissue, chin, and neck area.
Developed as an alternative to tumescent and traditional liposuction, laser-assisted liposuction is able to target specific parts of the body that are especially difficult to treat with other liposuction methods. Also known as SmartLipo, liposculpture, or laser lipolysis, laser-assisted liposuction is a little different from other procedures.
There are a few techniques, some which include suction, others that do not. In these procedures, rather than using a cannula to suck out the fatty deposits beneath the skin, the specialized cannula actually houses a laser designed to literally melt the fat. Once it has been liquefied, the fat can then be removed.
This technique has the added benefit of subtle skin tightening. This is due to the heat created by the laser. Your body's natural reaction is to constrict, pulling the surrounding tissues away from the heat source. This leads to a tighter, smoother outer layer of skin.
The laser for this procedure is designed to target only fat cells, leaving muscles, skin, and nerve tissue completely unharmed. This kind of precision means less pain, a shorter recovery period, and less bruising following surgery. Some companies have even pushed the technology further, creating a liposuction laser that uses very specific wavelengths for what they consider to be the best results.
Laser liposuction offers the same body contouring and visual improvements of other liposuction methods, and is growing in popularity among both patients and surgeons. Specifically, surgeons love it for its precision, and have started using it to target smaller, harder to reach areas of fat, like the chin, jowls, and face.
With the added skin tightening effect, this can almost act like a face lift. That being said, thanks to the high level of technology involved, and the level of experience necessary, laser-assisted liposuction can end up being more costly. Furthermore, the heat generated by the laser increases risk of uneven skin contraction, which may result in visible contour irregularities.
The Limitations of Liposuction
Ensuring patients have realistic expectations for their results is a goal cosmetic surgeons must work towards every day. It's essential to be transparent, honest, and open about what are possible and realistic outcomes.
For whatever reason, liposuction seems to have more misconceptions regarding its abilities than any other cosmetic procedure. In order to dispel some of these myths, these are some of the things liposuction cannot do:
- Tighten loose, sagging skin
The majority of skin laxity, or looseness, present in your body will still remain after the procedure. Many factors can contribute to the loss of skin elasticity, including pregnancy, significant weight fluctuations, and unlucky genetics. Sometimes removing fat from beneath the skin can make this look even worse.
Luckily, if this is a concern for you, liposuction can be combined with a procedure involving skin incisions to remove the excess. For example, abdominoplasty, also known as a tummy tuck, is commonly performed at the same time.
- Remove stretch marks
Stretch marks are basically scars, except they occur in the dermis, the layer of skin under the outermost layer, the epidermis. Once they form they may fade over time, but they won't fully disappear. Liposuction does nothing to address this.
- Eradicate cellulite
Unsightly cellulite is caused by two factors. The first is the presence of fibers under the skin which pull it down. The second is fat pushing up against the skin. Liposuction can help get eradicate some of the fat pushing up against the skin, but can't do anything at all about the fibers pulling down, causing the distinctive dimpling patterns of cellulite.
In some cases, especially in people with loose skin, liposuction can actually make the appearance of cellulite worse. This is a particular concern for women who want to treat their thighs and buttocks.
- Reduce your weight
Liposuction is not designed as a weight loss procedure, and can't be used as one. Ideal candidates for the procedure are already close to their ideal weight or at a stable weight. This procedure is ideal for small pockets of fat that bulge and ruin your shape. Bulges of fat don’t carry much weight, so the surgery won't have a significant impact on the scale. At most, you’ll only lose a couple of pounds.
- Flatten a belly rounded by intra-abdominal fat
Liposuction is always applied to the layer of fat between the muscles and skin, also known as subcutaneous fat. Unfortunately, some people's belly’s protrude because of fat found beneath the muscles, around the internal organs. This fat is called intra-abdominal, or visceral, fat.
Since visceral fat is much deeper, and not accessible by liposuction, the procedure can't help at all. Only proper diet and nutrition can deal with this kind of excess fat. Try this simple test to see whether liposuction can help you: if you can pinch the fat you want to get rid of between your fingers, then it can be removed.
- Change your life
Liposuction is intended to reduce unwanted fat in specific areas, nothing more. It is entirely up to you to follow through with good habits to maintain the results. Liposuction isn't a replacement for a healthy diet or exercise.
While the results of a liposuction surgery can help patients by improving self-esteem and confidence, it can't guarantee that job promotion, help you find your soulmate, or save a failing relationship.
How Much Does Liposuction Cost?
Thanks to the variety of ways that liposuction can be tailored to meet each patient's potential needs, estimating the exact cost of the procedure can be difficult: it will be different for everyone.
In general, the procedure costs between $2,000 and $3,500 per treatment area, plus fees for hospital or ambulatory surgical facilities, anesthesia, and a variety of other expenses.
When trying to estimate the cost of your treatment, there are a few details to keep in mind:
- The area(s) to be treated
Usually, larger areas like the stomach or back will cost more than smaller areas. That being said, some smaller, more difficult areas, like the chin or cheeks, might be more costly simply because they are harder to treat.
Generally speaking, the more areas you want to have fat removed from, the more costly your procedure will be.
- Body type
Because the final price will be determined by the volume of fat actually removed, larger patients looking to have more fat removed might need to pay more for the procedure.
- The specific procedure used
Some of the more advanced techniques, like ultrasound- or laser-assisted lipo cost more than traditional methods.
- Your surgeon's experience
The more experience and greater the reputation of your surgeon, the more likely it is they will charge more. However, the likelihood of good results is increased.
- Your geographic location
Liposuction costs vary a great deal from place to place. Generally speaking, the costs are more in major cities than in small towns.
Each of these factors plays a role in determining the price of the actual liposuction procedure. The final cost however, will usually also include some additional fees, such as anesthesia fees, operating room or surgical facility fees, and compression garments.
Additional issues like lab work or post-op medications may not be covered. Be sure to discuss the fees that are included in the quote your surgeon gives you.
Financing: Liposuction on Credit
Liposuction is considered an elective, cosmetic surgery, and as such is not covered by most insurance plans. Thankfully, this procedure is usually a lot less expensive than more invasive cosmetic surgeries, and many surgeons are happy to offer flexible financing options to make the procedure even more affordable.
Most doctors accept the most common payment options: cash, checks and major credit cards. Some even offer a discount to patients who pay for their procedure in full at one time. But many practices also offer their own financing options, often including fixed and no-interest plans. Be sure to discuss the options with your surgeon during your initial consultation.
An option that is becoming more and more popular is the use of a third-party medical financing program. These programs might offer a “medical credit card,” which works exactly like a traditional credit card, but is designed for procedures not covered by normal health insurance; elective surgeries for example. Re-payment is typically based on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule.
» Zwivel's health care financing partner CareCredit can help you with your health care-related expenses. Click here to find out more.
Top Liposuction Preparation Tips
Liposuction has become so popular and commonplace it can be easy to forget that it is still a surgery. Though it can be a fairly simple procedure, there are still a number of things you should do to help prepare yourself.
One of the first things you should do is set up an initial consultation. Your consultation will be a good opportunity for your surgeon to assess your overall health. Underlying health concerns can have a negative impact on both the surgery and the recovery, so be prepared to discuss your medical history.
You’ll also be asked to sign a consent form, otherwise you won’t be able to proceed with the surgery. This is a normal part of the procedure, but it should definitely give you enough pause to really research what you're getting yourself into.
The most important surgery preparation tip is to listen to all your surgeon's instructions before coming in for your liposuction procedure. If you're unsure about anything, don't be afraid to ask.
Following these pre-op instructions helps to reduce the risk of side effects and minimize discomfort:
- Avoid drugs that contain aspirin and anti-inflammatories.
Vitamin E and other herbal supplements should also be avoided. The risk of excessive bleeding following a liposuction procedure is small, but it can be reduced even further by not taking any blood-thinning medications for at least the two weeks leading up to the surgery.
- Stop smoking at least two weeks prior to your liposuction.
Smoking increases the potential for complications to occur in surgery, because nicotine impedes the flow of oxygen to the surgery site.
- Fill your prescriptions ahead of time.
Liposuction is associated with a number of recovery prescriptions. Be sure you understand all your surgeon's instructions for these medications.
It's also a good idea to fill these prescriptions before you go in for your operation. You won't be in a position to move around much afterwards.
- Try to achieve a stable weight that you are satisfied with prior to surgery.
Drastically losing weight before your liposuction, and then gaining it back after surgery can have dramatically negative effects on the results. Weight fluctuations after surgery can also adversely affect your results.
- Do some grocery shopping beforehand to stock up on foods that will be easy on your stomach.
You will want your body to be able to dedicate all its energy to healing, so aim to eat foods that take little energy to digest, like crackers, soup, applesauce, and Jell-O. You'll also want to make sure you have foods that are high in fiber, like prune juice, or even a mild laxative on hand. Post-liposuction pain medications can cause uncomfortable constipation.
- Create a comfortable area to rest and sleep before your procedure.
Following your liposuction, you won’t want to move around a lot, and even standing up straight can be uncomfortable and something to avoid.
- Dress down.
After your liposuction surgery is complete, there is likely to be a fair amount of swelling in and around the treated area. For the most comfort on your way home, it's best to wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Plan your trip back home.
Regardless of the kind of anesthesia used for your liposuction, you won't be able to drive for a while after the procedure. You'll need to have a friend or loved one to drive you home, and to stay with you for at least the first 24 hours to watch for rare signs of complications. They’ll also be able to assist you during that time.
What to Expect During Surgery
The popular concept of liposuction seems rather simple: simply suck the fat out. But like any surgery, the reality of the procedure is actually quite complicated. Each liposuction procedure is different from the next, depending a great deal on the area that will be treated and the liposuction technique being used.
That being said, most liposuction surgeries follow the same basic procedure:
Liposuction can be performed with either local or general anesthesia. In most liposuction procedures, a numbing agent is injected directly into the area to be treated. With a local anesthesia, only the location to be treated will be numbed, and you'll be awake for the process. This is suitable for smaller areas and limited fat removal.
General anesthesia, on the other hand, will put you to sleep for the entire surgery. After the procedure is complete and you wake up, you will still feel numb in the area that has been treated, but there shouldn't be any pain. The anesthesia that is most appropriate for you will be determined during your initial consultation.
Once the anesthesia has taken effect, and in some cases, fluid has been injected, the surgeon’s next step is to make the small incisions in the areas of the body where fat will be removed. These incisions are usually very small, ranging in size from about a quarter inch to a half inch. The cut needs to be just large enough for the cannula to be inserted.
- Fat removal
At this point your surgeon will insert the cannula, a small vacuum tube, through the incision into the fat layer. Your surgeon will begin moving the cannula back and forth. This breaks up the fat cells and allows them to be suctioned out of the body. A significant amount of blood and other bodily fluids will also, unavoidably, be removed from your body along with the fat cells.
You will receive replacement fluids through an IV tube during and following the surgery. Of course, the fat removal technique itself will depend on the particular type of liposuction that you are undergoing.
- Closing the incisions
How your incisions are treated following surgery will be left up to your surgeon. Some like to close the incisions with a few stitches, other choose to just leave them open since they are such small wounds. Leaving the incisions open also brings the added benefit of reduced bruising and swelling that often happen after liposuction. Your surgeon will discuss this with you well ahead of your surgery date.
Top Liposuction Recovery Tips
The length of the recovery period following your liposuction might be only a few days, or as long as several months (if a complication occurs). It all depends on the type of liposuction selected for your procedure, the size of the area being treated, and how your body responds.
Some minimal pain the day after the surgery is normal, and can usually be handled with pain medication and a little walking. Most patients are able to start easily moving around and walking again in less than a week, some can even return to desk work with only a little discomfort.
Swelling and Drainage
Swelling is a normal and an unavoidable side effect of any liposuction procedure. It might take a few months for the swelling to completely disappear, longer for larger treatment areas, but it will slowly go down. As the swelling slowly fades, your final results will be revealed.
At first your skin might also seem a little loose around the area that was treated, but it should tighten over time. How long this takes depends on your skin's elasticity, which is determined by a number of factors including age, genetics, and health. For most patients, their skin returns to normal within about 6 months to a year.
Initially, drainage tubes may be inserted into the treated area to reduce the risk of excessive swelling, seromas and hematomas. Your surgeon will let you know if you need drainage before your surgery.
For the first few days to a week, the anesthetic solution used for the procedure will drain from the incisions. This is normal and expected. In fact, it actually helps healing, and speeds up recovery time. However, you’ll need to care for the tubes and record the amount of fluid drained so your surgeon knows when they can be removed safely.
Infection is a risk for any surgical procedure, and you'll need to keep an eye on your incisions to look out for the signs.
If you see any evidence of an infection, like excessive swelling, malodorous discharge and redness, schedule a follow-up appointment immediately. Be sure to keep the lines of communication with your doctor open throughout your recovery.
Exercise is an important part of any recovery, but it's equally important to wait until your body is ready for the added activity. Before exercising after your liposuction, you should consult with your surgeon about exercise guidelines.
Most surgeons will suggest a gentle walking routine within the first few days of recovery. Be sure not to engage in strenuous activity too early. You'll most likely start to increase your activity levels over the course of two weeks, but you should avoid serious exercise for at least the first month. Your body will need the time to heal properly.
The following tips will help speed up the recovery process and prevent any complications:
- Be sure to drink plenty of water in the days right after your liposuction.
Making sure you're fully hydrated helps with both post-operative swelling and the dehydration that can occur as a result of the fluid loss from the procedure.
- Avoid drinks that lead to dehydration.
As stated above, dehydration is an immediate side effect of liposuction, thanks to the bodily fluids lost during the procedure. Caffeinated drinks can dehydrate you further, slowing your recovery, but alcohol is even worse. Alcohol not only dehydrates you, it negatively impacts your body's ability to fight infections, and heal in general.
- Ensure you eat nutritious food while you’re healing.
Liposuction can be a fairly traumatic procedure for your body, depending on where it's performed. Because of this, you might be restricted to a liquid diet for a few days, before gradually working up to soft foods, and finally your normal diet. Of course, once you're allowed to return to a normal diet, it's essential you get the proper nutrition to help your body heal.
Blueberries, salmon, and green tea are all laden with vitamins, antioxidants, and the proper nutrition your body will need to recover. Also try apples and pineapples to help reduce bruising. These fruits are good sources of bromelain and quercetin, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Try a lymphatic drainage massage, but only if your surgeon approves.
This highly recommended procedure is excellent following liposuction. The massage helps to reduce swelling and scarring, and also reduces your overall recovery time, by assisting your body in eliminating extra fluids that build up after surgery. Lymphatic massages can also have a positive impact on the immune system, aiding your body in its ability to fight off infections while you recover.
- Make sure you wear your compression garment.
It may feel uncomfortable or look unsightly at times, but it helps reduce pain and swelling, aids in fluid drainage, and guides your body to heal back into its normal contours.
You should really be wearing your compression garment 24 hours a day for at least the first week or two following your liposuction. You'll be allowed to take it off for about 12 hours a day after the first two weeks. In fact, some patients like to wear it longer simply because it makes them feel better and more supported. There’s no harm in that!
- Be active, but not too active.
It's critical that you get a lot of rest and take it easy during your recovery, but that doesn't mean lounging around all day doing nothing. To speed up your recovery after liposuction you'll need engage in some light exercise, like taking short walks. If you don't get up and move around at least a little after your liposuction you run the risk of developing dangerous blood clots in your legs or lungs.
Too much physical activity, on the other hand, can lead to increased swelling, or even tear your incisions as they heal. Get moving, but avoid intense cardio or weightlifting until 4-6 weeks after surgery.
- Don't bathe, shower.
Even though the incisions from your liposuction are likely to be very small, you'll still need to avoid submerging them in water. A nice hot bath might seem like just the thing you need, but exposing your incision to that much water increases your chances of an infection, and can greatly slow down your healing process. Take showers for at least the first week of your recovery. Avoid public pools for at least a month.
- Above all else, follow your surgeon's instructions.
In the months or weeks before your liposuction is scheduled, your doctor will explain everything you will need to do, and the things you shouldn't do during your recovery to ensure you heal quickly and comfortably.
Because of the range of liposuction procedures available, it's imperative you listen to your doctor's orders regarding rest, exercise, compression garments, dressings, and prescriptions.
A Few Words on Compression Garments
During the first few days of your recovery, your surgeon may instruct you to wear a compression garment 24 hours a day. The garment helps swelling and bruising to be kept to a minimum. It also helps the skin adjust to your new leaner curves.
After a week or so, you may be able to reduce your use of the compression garment to 12 hours a day, and eventually remove it completely. The schedule for this will depend entirely on your unique procedure, so you should follow your surgeon's instructions fully and carefully.
There are a number of important reasons to wear it:
- Your compression garment will help control swelling.
The garment applies some pressure to the tissues in your body, forcing the fluid that causes the area to swell into your veins and lymphatic system so it can be carried away. This pressure helps minimize the initial swelling after the procedure, and helps expedite your body's ability to reabsorb the fluids that build up.
- It prevents dangerous collections of fluid, called seromas.
Basically, when the fat is removed, a void is left behind. The same bodily forces that cause swelling can also cause fluid to build up in these spaces. These can be quite uncomfortable, and might need to be drained with a needle. Compression garments keep those voids closed while the surrounding tissues heal.
- It helps to improve the final results.
Those same voids that can allow fluid to build up also allow the skin to move freely over the underlying tissues, which can lead to wrinkling. Compression garments help to contain the skin in the right place while it heals.
- Compression reduces the appearance of scars.
Through research done on scarring, it's been discovered that putting pressure on the healing tissue softens and improves the resulting scar. External scarring after a liposuction is usually very minimal, but there might be some internal scarring that can take a while to soften. The compression garment can help with this process.
Risks and Complications
Every surgical or medical procedure is accompanied by a certain level of risk. Although serious complications are rare, liposuction is no different.
Temporary side effects of liposuction, which usually fade within a few weeks, may include:
Some of the more rare and serious possible risks associated with liposuction include:
- Fluid build-up
- Friction burns
- Skin or nerve damage
- Changes in skin coloration
- Damage to internal organs
Severe complications after a liposuction are extremely rare, but should definitely be taken into consideration. These include:
- Adverse reactions to the anesthesia
- Cardiac arrest
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Internal blood clots
- Excessive bleeding
- Severe drug interactions
- Allergic reactions to medication
- Permanent nerve damage
- Fat or blood clots, which can migrate to the lungs and lead to death
- Excessive fluid loss, which can lead to shock, and in the most extreme cases, death
Maintaining Your Results
At first, your results might seem unimpressive. This is normal. Swelling and bruising will most likely be hiding the more drastic changes. Your skin might also seem loose, and it will take your body some time to adjust to its new shape. Be sure to wear your compression garment!
It may take as long as three months for most of the swelling and bruising to completely fade, and up to six months for your skin to re-tighten over the treated area. Your full, final results should be apparent after about six months to a year.
While results will vary from individual to individual, you can look forward to a slimmer figure, more defined muscle tone, and a more youthful look overall.
Thanks to the nature of most liposuction procedures, the resulting scars are usually very small, ranging in size from about a quarter of an inch to about half an inch. That being said, each surgery is unique. There are two kinds of scars that can form following a liposuction.
The first is what we think of as a ‘normal’ scar, and appears where the incision was made. The second is called a “dyschromia,” which is a term used to describe any strange discoloration of the skin, and is largely determined by genetics. Dyschromia can appear as either dark spots, called “hyperpigmentation,” or light spots, called “hypopigmentation.”
The first and most effective thing you can do for your scars is keep the incisions clean while they are healing, and follow all the instructions given to you regarding care of the drainage tubes, compression garment, and changing the dressings.
Once your incisions have fully healed, there are a few techniques you can use to minimize their appearance. Massaging your scars with a fingertip, and keeping them out of direct sunlight are two excellent ways to prevent your scars from hardening or darkening.
You might also try scar reducing creams. Silicone sheeting is another popular option, as are surgical paper tapes, like Steri-Strips, both of which help flatten and fade scars. Not all of these treatments will work for every patient, and many surgeons won't want you touching your scars at all for a while. Be sure to discuss all your options with your doctor ahead of time.
Diet and Exercise
An unfortunate misconception many people have about liposuction is that they won't need to maintain a healthy diet or exercise after the procedure. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Liposuction is an excellent procedure for removing unwanted body fat in specific areas, but the removal of these fat cells in no way prevents future weight gain. That’s because there will still be fat cells remaining in the treated area(s), and they can and will expand with weight gain. Fortunately, you’ll always have fewer fat cells so the amount of expansion will be proportionate.
The happiest and most satisfied patients use their liposuction as motivation to make healthier choices, like committing to a nutritious diet and active lifestyle.
As with most cosmetic procedures, one of the most effective things you can do to maintain your results is to start eating well. Every patient is different, so there is no particular, set diet to follow after liposuction. That being said, in general you'll want to eat plenty of lean protein, low fat and calcium-rich dairy, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also increase the amount of water you're drinking, and cut back on processed, refined and junk foods.
Exercise is especially important following liposuction because it helps to maintain a healthy weight and improves muscle definition. Similar to your post-op diet, there is no need to launch into an extreme exercise routine. However, it's usually recommended that you engage in some kind of physical activity at least 5 days a week, for at least 30 to 45 minutes each day. Try jogging, walking, biking, or swimming to start.
Weight Gain After Liposuction
Liposuction can be an ideal procedure for people who are unable to eliminate a few pockets of fat in particular areas of the body. However, what happens if you gain weight after your liposuction procedure?
The answer to this question is a little complicated. In the simplest terms, you won't gain weight back in the areas treated with liposuction. This is because once you reach your teenage years, your body essentially stops making new fat cells. As you lose and gain weight as an adult, you're not actually gaining and losing fat cells. Rather, the cells are swelling to accommodate new fat, or shrinking as you burn it off. Liposuction changes this by completely removing the cells that store fat. Once those cells are gone, they can't regenerate.
If you gain weight following liposuction, the fat will still be stored in the treated area(s), but to a lesser extent. You’ll notice that other locations on your body will hold more fat, because that’s where fat cells are more plentiful as they haven't been removed. This is the benefit of liposuction: the contours created are more or less permanent. Even if you gain a little weight back, it won't be as much in the areas that led you to seek liposuction in the first place.
A small to moderate amount of weight gain will not pose a significant problem. Extreme weight gain, however, can represent a serious problem and affect your results. For this reason, liposuction must be accompanied by a commitment to a healthier lifestyle, if for no other reason than to maintain your results. If you don't commit to healthier changes and you gain weight in the months and years following the procedure, you may not like where your body decides to redistribute the fat.
Latest Techniques and Scientific Studies
Since its inception in the mid-seventies, liposuction has evolved rapidly: a range of liposuction techniques now exist, including water-assisted (tumescent), syringe-assisted, ultrasound-assisted and power-assisted liposuction. All are emblematic of the desire to offer patients safer and more effective liposuction results.
One of the most exciting new developments outlined in a December 2016 medical text is the increasing availability of high-definition liposculpture. High-definition liposculpture is an advanced liposuction technique for the abdominal and oblique muscles, with the objective of giving the patient a highly sculpted and athletic figure. For surgery to be successful, patient eligibility is, however, stringent and results will depend on the patient’s body type.
Surgeons performing high-definition liposculpture must have precise knowledge and expertise of the muscle groups in the abdomen and of their concavities and convexities. The outcome is a beautifully contoured abdomen that highlights the musculature of the core.
MicroAire liposuction represents another turning point in liposuction technique. Released in 2016, Microaire combines power-assisted liposuction with vibrations. While power-assisted liposuction allows the cannula (the liposuction instrument) to move back and forth breaking up pockets of fat and fibrous tissue, vibration- assisted liposuction enables the tip of the instrument to vibrate in every direction.
As a result, fat can be broken up much more efficiently and effectively than by power-assisted liposuction alone, meaning larger quantities can be removed in a briefer time period. For those seeking rapid and effective liposuction treatments, MicroAire looks set to be a game changer.