Post-Procedure Exercise Guidelines According To Plastic Surgeons

One of the most common questions plastic surgeons are asked during a consultation: ‘When can I start working out again?’ Here, we break down the general rules and why they stand true.
Written by Jeannine Morris Lombardi
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Post-Procedure Exercise Guidelines According To Plastic SurgeonsLYFE Fuel/Unsplash

Thinking of having a cosmetic procedure done in the near future? You’re not alone. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), 17.7 million cosmetic procedures were carried out in 2018, with 1.8 million of them being surgical and 15.9 million being minimally invasive. On the surgical side, breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty, eye lifts, and tummy tucks make up the top five.

While there are lots of questions to ask your provider during a cosmetic surgery consultation, plastic surgeons agree that the two most common questions patients ask are:

  • How much is this going to cost?
  • When can I begin working out again?

The latter is perhaps the biggest challenge plastic surgeons are facing today. Patients assume that because of new technologies and innovative techniques, they’ll be able to resume their exercise routine almost immediately post-op. But even the best plastic surgeon is a slave to tissue integrity. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” says Gregory Buford, MD, a general plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Denver, CO. “On one hand, it’s nice to work with patients who have a healthy lifestyle. But, on another, if they go back to their fitness routines too quickly, they risk complications.”

There are three main factors that go into a doctor’s decision of when to let a patient begin working out again after a procedure (surgical or non-surgical) and to what extent.

  1. How extensive the procedure is
  2. What areas of the body are being affected
  3. The kind of lifestyle the patient leads

As such, recovery instructions and post-op guidelines for resuming normal and strenuous activities will vary by provider and patient. “Post-procedure recovery time is very important,” says Jonathan Cabin, MD, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Beverly Hills, CA. “Each surgery is a partnership between the doctor and the patient, and it’s the patient’s responsibility to take their doctor’s instructions seriously in order to heal properly.” Even so, there are some general recovery best practices that apply to both face and body procedures.

Post-Procedure Guidelines for Face

Generally speaking, Dr. Cabin advises his patients not to partake in strenuous exercise for three weeks after facial surgeries. In the post-procedure world, ‘strenuous exercise’ consists of:

  • Lifting weights over five pounds
  • Running
  • Bending over

“You don’t want to do anything that would make you sweat or raise your heart rate or blood pressure,” he explains. Needless to say, the timeline can vary. In some cases, he allows patients to begin a bit of exercise at two weeks post-op, while others he counsels to wait until week four. And that is not to say all activity is off limits.

Walking and light bike riding are actually encouraged to keep the blood flowing and reduce the risk of blood clots. After three weeks, Dr. Cabin encourages his patients to start slow (at about 20 percent) and build up to normal exertion. “If you normally run five miles at an eight-minute per mile pace, start by running one mile at a 10-minute pace and build up,” he says.

Post-Procedure Guidelines for Body

When it comes to resuming activity after body surgeries like breast augmentation, liposuction, or tummy tucks, Dr. Buford usually recommends his patients wait five to six weeks post-procedure to begin exercising again. “When doing a procedure like a tummy tuck, I’m literally lifting the skin from the abdominal wall from the lower portion to the base of the chest,” he explains. “All of that lymphatic muscles, nerves, tissue, etc. has to heal.”

Plus, many times body procedures are performed in tandem. A tummy tuck, for example, can be combined with liposuction. In that case, your entire core is worked on to the extreme, making any kind of twisting an absolute no-go. But the recovery period is not an excuse to be a couch potato. Like Dr. Cabin, Dr. Buford recommends light activity after surgery. “Your body is built to heal, and it uses guidance from movement to heal more quickly,” he says.

What Happens If You Go Too Hard Too Soon

If you begin getting back to your normal fitness routine sooner than your body is ready, there could be complications that affect the quality of your results and overall health. Complications include:

  • Swelling worsening when blood pressure rises
  • Stitches breaking open
  • Tension from stretching stitches making a scar look worse
  • Increased blood pressure leading to increased blood flow and hematomas
  • Sweat producing a higher risk of infection at the incision site

There is no get rich quick scheme when it comes to working out after a cosmetic procedure. While it’s important to have some amount of mobility, you need to use common sense, listen to your doctor, and respect your own body.

Communication and education play key roles in getting patients to abide by the rules no matter how badly they want to work up a sweat. “If I explain to a patient that the reason why they can’t do chest or shoulder exercises after their breast augmentation is because I’m going to be stretching their pectoral muscles to insert implants underneath, they’re more likely to listen and recover well,” Dr. Buford concludes.

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JEANNINE MORRIS LOMBARDIis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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