What can make your post surgery recovery better, or worse?

Fiona Clark

What can make your recovery after surgery better – or worse? Surgeons give their top tips.

There are multiple reasons why you might opt to have cosmetic or plastic surgery done – to remove excess skin after weight loss or pregnancy, refresh your face or re-shape your nose. Whatever the reason there are various things you can do to help your recovery and some things that you simply shouldn’t do as well.

Let’s quickly run through them.

  1. Don’t smoke. Smoking interferes with the body’s healing process and puts you at great risk of post-surgery complications.

According to Plastic Surgeon Naveen Cavale smoking and surgery don’t go together. He tells his patients that light smokers are twice as likely to have a complication than a non-smoker and  heavy smokers are four times more likely. He encourages his patients to quit at least four weeks prior to surgery and to try not to start again for at least 3 months post surgery.

Why? Smoking interferes with the body’s healing process. Less oxygen and nutrients are carried in your blood to the wound if you’re a smoker. But, there’s also the coughing. If you’ve managed to give up the lungs will try and get rid of the gunk that’s in them and that coughing will go on for a few weeks. If you haven’t given up you may cough and coughing increases blood pressure which increases the risk of bleeding, bruising and infection. Being a smoker for an aesthetic surgery procedure may affect your after care – ie you may have to pay for complications that arise from your smoking as opposed to getting the treatment for free.

2. Get your weight down. Being overweight is a risk factor for surgery. Often doctors doing surgery for removing excessive skin after weight loss of post pregnancy will ask that you have a BMI of 28 or less. According to Plastic Surgeon Dan Marsh,  being overweight slows your recovery and puts you at puts you at greater risk of issues when it comes to wound healing. You may also have a higher risk of lung issues such as pneumonia as well.

The surgery itself is also riskier if you are overweight. People who are overweight have a higher risk of breathing problems, blood clots and recovery – you may have to spend longer in hospital. Losing 5-10% of your body weight can improve your outcome and lower your risk.


Foods that may help you recover faster (and some that won’t)

Certain foods may help with the body’s recovery process. Foods that you should consider in your diet pre-and post surgery include:

  • Protein – Protein is essential to wound healing. Chicken and eggs and good sources.
  • Vitamin C – It is an antioxidant and helps with cell repair so consider adding some citrus fruits, capsicum and kiwi fruits to your diet.
  • Zinc -Some research shows that zinc can help with healing. Sources include whole grains and milk products. Many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc. Oysters, red meat, and poultry are excellent sources of zinc. Baked beans, chickpeas, and nuts (such as cashews and almonds) also contain zinc.
  • B12 and Iron – Iron and B12 both aid bone marrow in forming new blood cells which carry oxygen and nutrients around the body. Fish and eggs are good sources.
  • Fibre and probiotics – After surgery you may feel constipated. Foods that help keep your bowels movien his combination helps boost the immune system and also keeps your digestive tract moving along. Eating yogurt with muesli is just one way to get a serving of both fibre and probiotics – add some fruit for extra fibre and vitamins!

Things to avoid:

  • Sports drinks – While it is important to stay hydrated the high salt levels in some sports drinks may make you retain water, making it more difficult to reduce swelling.
  • Sugary foods and drinks – Limit your intake of refined sugars as they may play havoc with your blood sugar levels making you feel tired at times. They may also contribute to inflammation.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol is a vasodilator – which means it increases blood flow to the wound. That may sound like a good thing but it can increase your risk of bleeding and may interfere with healing as it compromises your immune system, putting you at greater risk of infection.

Things to do that may help

Keeping mobile: Once you are able to walk, your doctor may encourage you to get moving – with care. It’s important for reducing the risk of blood clots and also to help get the bowels moving.  Try getting up and having a short walk every couple of hours.

Taking your pain meds: You may think that you don’t need them but if they have been prescribed it’s a good idea to take them as pain can interfere with sleep and a good night’s sleep is vital for recover.

Inspect your wounds: Keep an eye on your wounds. If they start to look red of angry, are oozing or have a smell, or feel hot contact your surgeon. He or she should have given you an out of hour contact as well in case of any issues that arise over night or on the weekend.


Things not to do

Don’t touch: Unless you’ve washed your hands thoroughly don’t touch your wounds until they’ve completely closed.

Don’t put creams or oils on your wounds until they are closed: Until the wounds are closed do not put any scar healing creams or disinfecting agents on your wounds unless your doctor has told you to.

Do not pick or scrub your wounds or put germ killers on them: Cleanliness may be next to Godliness  but picking the scabs or trying to keep the care clean by scrubbing or using alcohol-based or peroxide type products may make the wound worse and increase your risk of infection. Scabbing is a natural part of healing. Removing the scab may increase your risk of infection as will scrubbing the area. A warm shower with a pH neutral wash should be enough. Pat dry with a clean towel and then allow to air dry. Unless your doctor tells you to – don’t put anything on the wound.

Don’t lift heavy things: Often easier said than done, especially if you have small children – but lifting will place pressure on your incisions.

Don’t cough or sneeze: Impossible ask – but you can learn how to brace yourself to minimise the risk of damaging your incisions.

Holding a pillow gently but firmly over your incision when you sneeze, cough or vomit may help reduce pain and provide temporary support for the incisions – reducing the risk of tearing your stitches.

Bracing your incision when rising from a seated position to standing, sneezing, coughing or lifting is important.

Don’t strain on the loo: If you are feeling constipated after surgery  increase your water, probiotic and fibre intake. If you can’t get the constipation under control speak to your surgeon.

Just like coughing or sneezing, straining to have a bowel movement may cause the incision to open.

After your wounds are closed -and with your doctors’ permission – a silicone based gels like Nourisil or a scar cream like Dr Douglas McGeorge’s Solution for Scars may help reduce itching and redness and aid in wound healing.

Don’t Over do it: Keeping mobile is one thing – but if your surgeon has said no gym, swimming or strenuous work for a certain period of time – listen to them. Doing too much too early could put strain on your incisions as they heal, causing them to tear,  open or bleed and  bruise.

Don’t go in the sun: Sunshine is the enemy of a healing scar. It can make that new and healing skin turn permanently darker. You should keep your scar out of the sun for at least a year and put sunscreen on them if they are exposed after that.

Your surgeon will have given your instructions. Follow them. And if you have any concerns contact them or the hospital where you had the surgery performed.

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