Speed Healing

Kathleen Bowers and Jessica Pullano

by Kathleen Bowers and Jessica Pullano | August 10, 2010 @ 01:00PM

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Once you decide to go through with an elective surgery, one of your biggest decisions will involve scheduling. You'll need to take time out for the surgery itself, of course, but even more than that, you'll have to take time out from your daily schedule for recovery. How much time you'll need, and how well you'll heal, will depend on several factors.

The good news is that your healing process is something you can have some control over. Read on for expert tips on how to help yourself heal – quickly and well – so you can look and feel your best as soon as possible. After all, that's why you decided to have this elective procedure to begin with, right?

Be prepared. Talk to your doctor about what you can expect in terms of soreness, bruising, nausea, or other problems immediately after surgery. Then buy everything you might need in advance. For a terrific catalog brimming with elective surgery recovery products, go to http://www.homerecovery.com or call 1-888-477-2273 for a print copy. (Don't miss the unique procedure-specific kits!)


Smoke? No! Los Angeles plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Kinney warns his patients about the harm that smoking can cause during the healing process. If you're a smoker, you'll want to stop for the two weeks prior to surgery and continue until your incisions are fully healed.

Dr. Kinney warns that smoking prevents your skin from getting enough blood flow. "Incisions may heal very slowly, and the edges of the incision may even die. This can, in turn, cause scars to become large, ragged, and prominent." Smokers sometimes need further surgeries just to reduce these scars.

"Even better, you should consider stopping smoking altogether. After all, your choice to have surgery is one to make a permanent positive change in your life, and quitting smoking can be another important change. You need to know that smoking prematurely ages your skin, as well as your lungs, heart, and other organs," says Dr. Kinney. (As with every important medical decision, get your doctor's advice and help.)

Listen to your body. You may feel nauseous or unusually tired immediately after surgery. Now is the time to indulge yourself. Sleep when you feel like sleeping. If your appetite is gone, simply sip water and nibble on saltines for awhile until you feel like eating again. (But to be sure you don't get dehydrated, watch your water intake and discuss how much you're getting with your doctor.)

Slow down to speed your healing – at least at first. A period of rest and inactivity after surgery is very important."Patients sometimes are feeling so good," says esthetician Alison Carole, "that they get back into activities too early. Pain medications sometimes work so well that you may easily forget that your body is healing."

Carole devises customized healing plans for plastic surgery patients at Accent Esthetics in Gold River, California. She recommends that patients talk to their doctor, or doctor's staff, about the recovery process before they actually schedule the procedure. "Some procedures require more post-operative inactivity than others," cautions Carole. "For example, after a breast augmentation it is very important to limit the use of your hands and arms for the first couple of days. If the implants are put under the pectoral muscle, it is important to restrict movement that affects that area of the body, such as lifting your arms above your head. I also suggest keeping the head elevated after, say, a facelift."

Ask your doctor what kinds of movement should be restricted after your procedure – and for how long. Once you're allowed to begin resuming daily activities, go slow. Be gentle to your body and it will respond with better health and improved appearance. "If you're not feeling well enough to return to your normal activities, don't worry," says Dr. Kinney. "Some surgeries, such as liposuction, are generally associated with non-specific lack of energy. This is normal." Remember: slowing down can speed recovery!

Easy does it. Esthetician Alison Carole advises using only the mildest skincare techniques and products after elective surgery. She says, "For many post-op patients, it's a good idea to see a dermatologist or skin care specialist within four to six weeks after the surgery. That's a good time for patients to discuss their candidacy for different skin care procedures to help skin look its best." Carole also recommends that you talk to your doctor about using some form of topical vitamin C to help control redness and edema." When your skin is bandaged and taped with adhesives, it can become irritated and difficult to clean. Work with your doctor's office or esthetician to maximize the healing of your skin after surgery.

Eat a good diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants (like vitamins C, A, and E, as well as CoQ10 and certain herbal preparations) will provide the optimum conditions for healing. However, be sure to get your doctor's approval first. Some herbal supplements are known to increase bleeding or slow the healing process. Cautions Dr. Kinney, "Unless your doctor gives you other instructions, avoid St. John's Wort, gingko biloba, some types of Chinese black mushrooms, and other natural medicines and foods that may thin the blood."

Pamper yourself. If you have stiffness, aching or swelling after surgery, consider a lymphatic draining massage. Not only is it comforting and relaxing, but it can help reduce swelling, most significantly in areas like the face and neck.

Generally speaking, lymphatic draining massage is not applied to the areas around the incisions. Instead, it is applied to areas of the body that have become sore or stiff due to inactivity. Ask your doctor's permission first, of course. Better yet, ask him/her for a referral to a massage therapist with an expertise in lymphatic draining massage. (An untrained masseuse could unintentionally damage healing tissues!)

Massage can assist body processes by helping to keep connective tissue flexible and to improve circulation and lymph flow. It can help move toxins, previously stored in the muscles due to inactivity, through the circulatory system so to be more readily processed as waste.

Try Endermologie, a widely available massage treatment that helps to temporarily treat cellulite and increase lymphatic flow. Rather than using just the hands to give the massage, Endermologie treatments use a mechanized vacuum roller.

This treatment is frequently recommended following body contouring procedures. Newer, smaller treatment heads are now available for the face as well. Many patients have enhanced their results by using these treatments after their surgical procedure.

Find a confidante to help you plan ahead. Dr. Kinney advises patients to "consider in advance how you will – or won't – discuss your procedure with family members, friends, and coworkers. Some people want to keep their treatments to themselves, while others are so happy and proud of the results that they want to tell everyone."

"Choose someone you trust to help you make these decisions, and help with recovery," advises Dr. Kinney. "Tell your confidante what you expect from them, and how they can help you following your procedure. Perhaps in advance of your surgery, you could do something nice for them as an early thank you."

"Work with your confidante to decide how you will handle the demands of your social life during recovery, and how you will handle inquisitive individuals with whom you don't want to discuss the personal details of your surgery. It's important that you make these decisions in advance. Remember that immediately following the surgery it may be difficult to make such decisions. You'll be too stressed – both physically and mentally, but this will pass. You'll want to keep emotional stress to an absolute minimum."

Consider purchasing a good concealer in advance – especially if you're having facial surgery. Finding a concealer that matches your skin tone can be difficult. (It should just match your skin or be slightly lighter.) The best concealers are nearly all pigment. These feel thick and dry to the touch, rather than waxy, creamy or oily. If you're using a high-pigment concealer, you won't need to use much to get good coverage – and it won't crease or slip during the day. (The little tubs of MAC concealers are good and inexpensive. And Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage is terrific, too!)

Be sure to get your doctor's okay before using makeup again. And if you're interested in learning more about using concealers, look for a terrific book called Your Makeover, written by Morgen Schick DeMann.

Avoid the sun. You need to do everything you can to protect healing incisions. Don't plan to sunbathe the week after surgery! Ask your doctor about how to best protect your skin from the sun – and how important it is to do so in your particular situation. (Take a look at homerecovery.com for hats and scarves designed just for post-surgery sun protection and cover-up.)

Follow all your doctor's advice. If you don't understand why you need to do something, or you don't understand how to do it, ask your doctor! Ask former patients as well; many patients have excellent ideas and experience with alternative treatments that may help with recovery.

The information on this web site is only intended as an introduction, and should not be used to determine whether you will have a particular procedure performed, nor as a guarantee of the result. The best method of determining your options is to consult qualified surgeons who are able to answer specific questions related to your situation. 

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