What is the expected recovery after breast augmentation? This is a common question from patients considering breast implants. Recovery may vary depending on the individual patient as well as implant size and placement. For patients in academic programs or office-based work environments, they are generally able to return within one week of surgery, potentially even a few days. I recommend for patients to avoid heavy lifting over 5 pounds, gym exercise, or strenuous activity for one month following breast augmentation. This lowers the risk of delayed complications, bleeding in particular.
During exercise or strenuous activity, one’s heart rate and blood pressure increase. This increases the risk of bleeding following surgery, which may lead to greater bruising, swelling, and potentially hematoma formation. A hematoma refers to ongoing bleeding or a collection of blood within the implant pocket. If a hematoma develops following breast augmentation, a second surgery is most often required to evacuate the old blood, stop any bleeding if identified, and irrigate the implant. Although the risk of bleeding decreases as more time passes, delayed hematomas have been reported weeks following surgery. Rare cases have been reported at even longer periods following breast augmentation, but it is generally safe to progressively increase one’s activity level and exercise after one month once cleared at follow up assessment.
Recovery may also depend on the size and placement of implants. In general, the larger the implant, the more discomfort post-operatively as the natural breast and soft tissues of the chest are stretched to a greater degree. Implant placement under the muscle (in the “subpectoral” or “submuscular” plane) is generally more uncomfortable immediately following surgery. Your pectoralis major muscles contract during many different upper body activities, even when using your arms to shift your body weight in bed. So as the muscles contract, you may experience more discomfort than when the implants are placed above the muscle (referred to as the “subglandular” or “prepectoral” plane). Submuscular placement leads to pain evoked by nociceptors, specialized nerve endings in the muscle. Although there may be greater discomfort over the first few days, this alone would not determine choosing one plane over the other.
Implant placement will be discussed in detail pre-operatively during your consultation. Several factors are considered, including how much breast tissue is present to provide coverage for the implant as well as patient lifestyle and activity level. For patients with small breasts before surgery – demonstrating less than 2cm on “pinch test” of the upper pole – placing implants in the submuscular pocket may result in a better aesthetic outcome. The extra coverage provided by the muscle lowers the risk of implant visibility, rippling, and other complications. Patients who are very active in upper extremity sports and activities (e.g. rowing, physical training) may dislike the movement of submuscular implants created by pectoralis contraction. The challenge is that this patient population may also have less breast and subcutaneous tissue to provide coverage for implants above the muscle, which will be discussed after clinical examination.
Patients generally require pain medication for a few days following breast implant surgery, often tapering after 1-2 days. Once you have stopped taking pain medication and are able to move comfortably without restriction, you may then resume driving.
We hope that this provides helpful information regarding recovery following breast implant surgery, which remains one of the most common cosmetic procedures in North America with high patient satisfaction. If you have any questions, please contact us at any time to schedule a consultation.