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The recovery from face lift surgery is determined by the dynamics of your individual healing process and by your need for privacy.
For Most Patients There Is Less Discomfort than Expected
Most of my patients are pleasantly surprised by the relatively low level of discomfort after facial rejuvenation surgery. I often prescribe a combination of valium to relax the muscles and a mild narcotic pain pill to reduce discomfort to help with the first few days after surgery. For patients who wish to avoid all narcotic pain pills, we can prescribe alternatives. Many patients make the transition to tylenol within one or two days of surgery and are able to dispense with with stronger pain medicine entirely. A few require the pain pills several days longer.
More common than pain is a sense of tightness across the neck and beneath the ears. This gradually diminishes over a period of one to two weeks, but occasionally the sensation lasts longer. This tightness is directly related to the fact that we have achieved deep structural rejuvenation of the neck. The platysma muscle of the neck has been restored to a youthful position that supports the neck.
There Are Three Phases to the Healing Process After a Face Lift
I tell my patients there are three phases to the healing process. The first phase is swelling, which usually peaks at two to three days and gradually diminishes. Swelling is usually greater in people with a heavier facial structure.
The second phase is bruising, which peaks at five or six days. We instruct our patients about ways to diminish bruising, but there is still a wide variation from one person to another. Some patients have very little bruising after facial rejuvenation surgery; others have quite a bit more. For patients with greater than average bruising we have several methods to help the bruising resolve.
The third phase is what I refer to as “settling in.” During this phase there will be areas of firmness in the cheek and neck that are related to the deeper sutures that I place to restore the facial structures to a youthful position. There will also be areas of numbness, which gradually diminish over time. The neck will feel tight, and this requires time to relax. These issues are perceived by you, but are generally not recognized by others.
What You Do Before a Face Lift Affects What You Will Experience After a Face Lift
The better shape you are in, the better your recovery.
Healthy nutrition and as much exercise as possible in the weeks leading up to surgery will supercharge the healing process. I ask my patients to emphasize foods rich in antioxidants and to reduce their intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Many of my patients have already established this beneficial pattern of nutrition. For those who have not, the dietary changes that they make in preparation for facial rejuvenation surgery can be maintained after the surgery on a permanent basis, which will provide long-term health benefits.
It is also wise to bring your skin to an optimal condition prior to face lift surgery. For patients who are not on a regimen of medical grade products, we suggest that they begin such a program prior to surgery if at all possible. After surgery our patients are encouraged to provide the finishing touches to their surgery with a customized program of medical grade skin care at our Chicago and Winnetka offices.
Excess sun exposure damages the skin’s structure and repair mechanism. It is very important to protect your skin from the sun in the weeks before a face lift. A recent tan supercharges the pigment cells of the skin and may lead to deposition of brown pigment in the area of surgical incisions.
If you are planning to lose more than 10 pounds of weight it is wise to do so before facial rejuvenation surgery. This enables me to optimize the tone of the skin and deeper structures at the time of your surgery. There is nothing worse for the longevity of a face lift than for a patient to cycle up and down in weight after surgery. Each time this happens the skin is stretched out and some of the benefit of the surgery is lost. On the other hand, a stable foundation of good habits of exercise and healthy nutrition will allow the benefits of your surgery to last for years.
Longer hair styles help to camouflage the incisions and sutures in the early weeks after surgery. With a longer hair style, glasses, and camouflage cosmetics it is often possible for a patient who recently had surgery to return quite quickly to many routine activities.
Scars from Face Lift Surgery Are Rarely an Issue
Patients who come to me for consultation regarding face lift surgery often express concern about the visibility of the incisions that are made for the surgery. In my practice I rarely hear any concerns about scars from patients on whom I have performed surgery. Why this discrepancy between the preoperative concern and the actual event?
Part of the explanation comes from the fact that there are many types of practitioners who perform face lift surgery. Some have invested years in proper training and then have devoted their entire practice to careful observation of the natural form of the facial structures and refinement of technique. Others have little advanced training and a careless attitude in the operating room. I have seen many examples of the results of this second category of practitioners and the results are not pretty.
Careful attention to the details of planning of surgical incision and the technique of closure results in scars that are rarely an issue for the patient. Over the years I have gone to many meetings that focus on face lift surgery. I have seen hundreds of results of master surgeons such as Daniel Baker and Sherrell Aston in New York City, Tim Marten in San Francisco, James Stuzin in Miami and William Little in Washington DC and I have never seen the surgical incisions to be an issue.
Some patients who contemplate facial rejuvenation surgery are so concerned about incisions that they fall victim to practitioners who promise remarkable results with minimal procedures. These techniques may involve strings that are supposed to pull the internal facial structures into a better position or lasers that are supposed to produce remarkable internal tightening. Most of these ideas get recycled every five to ten years and lose popularity as word spreads about their lack of long-term effect. In truth, mini procedures usually produce mini results.
Gentle Exercise Helps the Healing Process
After the first few days of recovery from surgery gentle exercise facilitates the healing process while heavy exercise is harmful. A mild stimulation of the circulation will help the body to heal, but overdoing exercise will simply increase swelling and slow the healing process.
We encourage our patients to walk at a moderate pace for the first few weeks after face lift surgery. Mild exercise stimulates the healing process and outdoor exercise minimizes the feeling of being “cooped up” after surgery and is good for the spirit.
Our work is customized to each patient, so we will provide you with individualized guidance as to resumption of specific types of exercise that is tailored to your needs.
Depending on the specifics of your surgery we will instruct you as to when you can resume more vigorous forms of exercise. This process occurs in a gradual manner and begins somewhere between three and five weeks after your surgery.
Good Nutrition Is Essential to Your Recovery
Almost every week a new scientific study is published that demonstrates the benefits of good nutrition. A diet that is rich in antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables, low in refined carbohydrates and sugar, low in fatty cuts of beef, and rich in protein from fish and other healthy sources lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke, and memory loss.
We strongly emphasize nutritional preparation in the weeks leading up to surgery and this is even more essential during the recovery period. For patients who have not yet adopted a pattern of optimum nutrition, the face lift surgery provides a great way to reset your nutritional patterns on a permanent basis.
The knowledge that good nutrition will help to extend the benefits of your surgery can be a powerful motivator to adopt habits of good nutrition and maintain them over the long term.
For the first few days after facial rejuvenation surgery we advise that you avoid food that is hard to chew, such as pizza, tougher cuts of meat, and certain types of nuts.
If You Have Travel Plans It Is Important to Tell Us Before Your Surgery
I and my team will see you several times during the first week and a half after surgery. This enables us to carefully monitor your healing, remove sutures at the optimum time, and optimize your recovery.
For patients who come to us from out of town, it is best to stay in the Chicago area for a minimum of ten days after face lift surgery and it is always nice if you can give us a few extra days. Some of our Chicago patients have second homes in the surrounding states. We can usually arrange for your appointments at the most convenient office location. Patients with homes in Michigan or Indiana usually prefer the Chicago office, while patients with homes in Wisconsin find the Winnetka office to be the best.
The main issue with air travel after the first few days is not the travel itself, but the need to avoid lifting heavy baggage. Make sure there is someone traveling with you who can lift your carry on bags. If you are traveling by yourself you should check your back and only use a light carry on.
We Will Guide You as to When You Can Return to Work and Social Activities
Unlike breast surgery or body contour surgery, facial aesthetic surgery cannot be hidden during the recovery period. In a more relaxed and gentler era it was generally advised that patients hide themselves for a month or more after face lift surgery. This is not practical for most people at the present time, as most of us lead busy and highly productive lives.
When you will return to work and social interaction is determined by several factors. The first factor is the nature of the surgery itself. Some procedures are more complex and extensive. As a general rule bigger and longer procedures require more time for recovery
The second factor is the speed at which you heal. If you have had other surgeries in the past this may be of some help in predicting your speed of healing. Patients who are in excellent physical condition and who have optimum nutrition tend to heal quicker that those who do not.
The third factor is how private you want to be about your surgery. I have noticed a trend toward greater openness about facial rejuvenation surgery. Fifteen years ago very few of my patients revealed to their friends and coworkers that they were going to have facial surgery. Now a significant percentage of my patients are entirely open about their surgery. This makes it easier to return to work or social interaction at an earlier date.
The fourth factor is the nature of your work. If you have a job that is largely carried out at the computer and over the telephone, you can return to work sooner that someone who has extensive client contact or who has work that is strenuous.
Your State of Mind Will Influence Your Entire Surgical Experience
It is not wise to undergo elective surgery during periods of stress. If you are experiencing turmoil in your work or in your personal life, it is better to postpone your surgery to a time when your life is calmer.
Look at your personal and work calendar and find the time when you are least busy. This is usually the best time to have your surgery.
If you undergo surgery during a period of excess stress, this will cause the release of stress hormones, which can affect the healing process in a bad way. Especially during the early recovery you should concentrate on healing rather than on concerns in your personal or work life.
Almost invariably patients who approach the surgery with a relaxed state of mind will have a smooth recovery and excellent results.
Our Goal Is to Optimize Your Entire Surgical Experience 
Our team at the Whole Beauty® Institute is committed to making the preparation for surgery and recovery from surgery a gentle experience. If you would like to know more about our naturalistic approach to facial rejuvenation, please schedule a consultation with Dr. John Q. Cook. You can schedule a visit by calling 312-751-2112 or by clicking here.