Here's what to expect after liposuction surgery

By Jill Murphy, MD, plastic surgeon at UPMC Altoona Plastic Surgery

Liposuction can be a powerful tool to help remove unwanted fat that is resistant to diet and exercise. 

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What You Can Expect After Liposuction 

Here are some of the most common questions I get asked about liposuction. 

How much pain will I be in after liposuction? 

Pain varies considerably from person to person. 

For most, it feels like having a giant bruise in the area that was treated. It shouldn’t be so severe that it keeps you from concentrating on other things (reading, watching TV, walking, etc.).  For people who have realistic expectations of pain (i.e., there will be some because you just had surgery, but it shouldn’t be 10/10 pain), and who don’t spend the recovery period lying in bed or on a couch for long periods of time, the pain is usually less than they expected. 

Will I see results right away? 

Liposuction can cause significant swelling. In some cases, this lasts a few months, and your final result will not be visible until then. 

The majority of swelling does improve after four weeks, though. You will wear a compression garment for the first four to six weeks after your procedure to minimize swelling and help with pain control. 

How long does it take to recover from liposuction? 

Liposuction recovery time can be explained in two phases: immediate and long-term. Right after surgery, you will get the compression garment. Once the anesthesia wears off post-surgery, you may feel some moderate pain and soreness. Around 3 to 5 days post-surgery, you’ll get your garments removed and a doctor will check your incision. After that, we ask patients to massage the area as the swelling decreases over the next few months. 

Are there scars with liposuction? 

The liposuction equipment is inserted into the skin through tiny incisions. Each incision is typically about as long as your pinky fingernail is wide. How many of these incisions you will have depends on the number of places you are having treated and how easily the fat is removed in these areas. Whenever possible, the incisions are hidden in a natural skin crease or fold. 

How much fat will be removed? 

There is a limit to how much fat can be removed without requiring an overnight stay in the hospital. This amount is five liters, which is roughly equivalent to 10 pounds. 

Whenever possible, this amount of fat will be removed. Sometimes, however, it is not possible to remove five liters. Some of the reasons to stop liposuction before removing five liters of fat include: 

  • The desired result has been achieved before reaching five liters. 
  • You don’t have five liters of fat present in the area being treated.
  • The area being treated starts to bleed.

It can be hard to predict in advance how much fat will come out. Sometimes it is possible to remove a very large amount of fat from a relatively lean individual. Conversely, it can sometimes be surprisingly difficult to remove fat from an individual who looks like they have enough fat to reach the five-liter limit. 

How many clothing sizes will I go down? 

This one is impossible to predict. You should see a reduction in fatty tissue in the area treated, but whether or not this translates into a drop in clothing size cannot be predicted in advance. 

Consequently, no guarantee can be made as to what size clothing you will wear after the procedure. 

Will liposuction get rid of the roll of skin I have in my abdomen, arms, thighs, or other areas? 

Although you will have a reduction in the amount of fatty tissue in the treated area, the skin that remains often will tighten up only minimally, if at all. 

Liposuction does not treat excess skin. Only surgery to remove excess skin (such as a tummy tuck, arm lift, thigh lift, etc.) can do that. 

Removing fat from an area of loose or hanging skin can sometimes make that area look worse. I tell patients to imagine removing the water from a water balloon. With the water gone, you’re left with the same amount of balloon, but now it appears deflated. Depending on the quality of your skin, the same thing can happen after liposuction. 

Individuals with firm, undamaged skin that has no stretch marks may see adequate tightening of their skin after liposuction. People with thin, sun-damaged skin or stretch marks may feel like their skin looks deflated after liposuction, as it is unlikely to tighten up completely once the fat is gone. 

What can you not do after liposuction? 

It’s important that you take it easy after surgery, especially in the first 3 days of recovery when the incision sites are still open. While strenuous exercise and activities are to be avoided during recovery, it is important to go on walks to keep your blood flowing.

You also can resume showering, desk work, household activities, and driving at about 24 hours post-surgery. But be careful, as overdoing it can cause extra swelling and pain. 

Will the fat grow back? 

Once the fat is removed from an area, it does not grow back. The fat cells that remain can get bigger with weight gain. Because there are fewer fat cells in the treated area (as compared to before the procedure), other areas of your body which were not treated may appear to increase in size. 

To learn more about this topic, or to schedule an appointment, contact us at UPMC Altoona Plastic Surgery or call us at (814) 947-5030. 




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