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How long will the swelling last after my surgery?

Well, it obviously depends on what type of surgery you have and on what part of the body, but there are some general guidelines that we can talk about. First, any time we operate on soft tissue be it a breast surgery, liposuction, or a tummy tuck or any facial surgery, we are wounding your tissues. Now we are wounding them under the most ideal circumstances e.g. anesthesia, sterility etc… but we are still doing surgery and this causes some trauma to the tissues. Our bodies are programmed to heal via a pre programmed cascade of which Inflammation is a key component. Now, the irony is that most hear the word ‘inflammation’ and have negative connotations, but inflammation is a normal and very critical component of tissue repair. What happens is that within and adjacent to the area where the surgery occurred, the blood vessels become leaky, like a soaker hose. Blood vessels are tubes with lots of holes in them to allow the cells that promote healing to be delivered to the injured area. As the cells escape the blood stream to heal, they pull water with them. That is called osmosis, think back to Biology 101. So there is extra water in the area. Now, to compound the problem, when there is extra water/swelling fluid the body gets rid of this via the tiny venous and lymphatic channels that course through our body. Well, the surgery usually disrupts these channels and new ones have to form. This process usually takes a several weeks to months. That’s why after cosmetic procedures, your surgeon will usually caution you to expect some swelling for at least 6 weeks and probably for 3-6 months post operatively. Areas that are particularly prone to swelling are the extremities, especially the legs. Anatomically, your leg is technically from your knee to your ankle. Because of gravity, this area swells the most and heals the most slowly. The head and neck areas also swell because the blood supply to this area is very robust and so there are just more ‘soaker hose’ vessels to leak during the inflammatory phase of wound healing. The take home message here is that swelling is a normal healthy part of healing. Your surgeon will discuss how much swelling and for how long based on your planned procedure and area to be treated.

Lee Corbett, MD

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