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Changes in Skin Sensation after Plastic Surgery: Here’s What You Want to Know

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Having plastic surgery can be exciting and extremely gratifying once the “dust has settled,” so to speak. Patients who elect to undergo surgery know that they will go through a recovery period. They tend to expect side effects like bruising and swelling. Changes in skin sensations? Not so much. Here, we discuss why plastic surgery procedures commonly result in sensation changes and approximately how long those changes may last based on a given procedure.

What Causes Changes to Skin Sensations After Plastic Surgery?

The skin is highly innervated. Nerves travel from all parts of the body to the brain, where touch is interpreted. Anytime the skin is injured, whether a scrape or a burn, part of the nerve network is disturbed. Communication from the nerves to the brain can be blunted for a short time. How quickly sensation is restored can vary. Generally, it is assumed that the time it takes for skin sensation to return to normal correlates with the severity of the injury. A scrape may take a week or so to heal. Surgical incisions can take longer.

Changes in skin sensation after plastic surgery are typically pretty mild. The majority of patients report some degree of numbness. Some say that they don’t have any sensation in their incision area. For others, tissue feels tingly, like when a hand or arm falls asleep. As nerves regenerate, the skin may experience little zaps or other sensations that feel out of the ordinary. This is all part of the repair process as the communication between severed nerves and the brain is reinstated.

How Long Will It Take to Regain Normal Sensation?

It is impossible to predict how long skin sensations will take to return, as well as how noticeable those changes will be. Every case is unique. In general, though, the timing may go as follows:

  • This is the most minimally-invasive procedure so is typically associated with the mildest changes in tissue sensation. Liposuction has tiny incisions, so patients may be back to normal in a few weeks.
  • Breast surgery. Breast procedures like augmentation and mastopexy to lift the breasts involve more extensive incisions. Interestingly, some studies suggest that smaller incisions that go only around the nipple area may be more likely to result in numbness or other sensation changes. Even with other incision patterns, breast surgeries can cause changes that take two to three months to resolve.
  • Tummy tuck surgery. A tummy tuck adjusts multiple layers of tissue. It trims the skin, a fatty layer of tissue, and muscle. Therefore, a fair amount of nerve disruption may occur. Patients usually notice improvement over two to six months. However, small areas of numbness or sensation loss may linger around the scar.
  • The skin around facelift incisions can take 12 to 18 months to fully heal. The sensation may return gradually over that time.

Have you been considering plastic surgery to address a cosmetic concern? Let’s talk! Call 303.399.7662 to schedule a consultation at our Denver office.