5 Things You Should Know About Liposuction – From Someone Who Had It
Original Article by Aviva Patz.
I’ve always hated my arms. The hanging flesh over my triceps has stubbornly refused to budge since I was in my 20s, even with dedicated weight training. I’ve been known to wear long sleeves in 90-degree heat and am skilled at contorting to hide my arms in pictures. I once tried one of those noninvasive fat-melting procedures, but you couldn’t tell the after picture from the before picture. Then I heard about a new treatment that was actually supposed to help: liposuction 2.0. While the fat-sucking treatment dates back to the mid 1980s, new technology has radically changed the way it works, and enabled people of a certain age (ahem) to become candidates. So if you want to smooth out your jiggly bits for good, here’s what you need to know.
It’s probably not what you’re imagining.
The original liposuction Hoovered out excess fat—that’s what you had in mind, right? This method was fine for young, elastic skin that would bounce back. Not so much for older skin that could end up loose and saggy afterwards. About 10 years ago, plastic surgeons added lasers, which deliver heat under the skin to liquefy fat, making it easier to remove and causing less bruising. As a bonus, lasers also stimulate collagen and elastin, leaving skin a little tighter and smoother.
Now, some surgeons use radiofrequency, which the FDA approved last year to tighten sagging skin on the neck, breasts, arms, stomach, and knee area. Surgeons are beginning to use it along with liposuction to prevent the problem of loose skin after fat removal. With radiofrequency, or ThermiTight, as it’s called, the doctor inserts a tiny probe under the skin that heats the target tissues to a specific temperature, causing mild trauma that prompts the body to produce new, tighter, smoother collagen over time. You can see some results in 6 to 8 weeks and full results after 6 months. Preliminary studies suggest that laser-assisted lipo causes 17% more skin shrinkage than traditional lipo, and board-certified aesthetic plastic surgeon Z. Paul Lorenc, MD, FACS believes that ThermiTight delivers even greater skin tightening, especially in the neck area, though studies have yet to be done.
Yes, it’s great technology, but it might not be the best fit in every situation. “In the neck and face, upper arms and above the knees, I absolutely love ThermiTight,” says Lorenc. “In the belly or thighs, I like the laser.” That’s because the body has different types of fat—fat on the back is more fibrous, for example—which responds differently to treatment.
It’s actually safe.
Though the idea of sending a hot poker into your body may seem insanely dangerous, there are safeguards in place to prevent burning. The tip of the probe has a temperature sensor, and an infrared camera monitors skin temperature, so your doctor can keep tabs on what’s happening both inside and outside your body. Of course any powerful tool in the wrong hands can be dangerous, which is why you’ll want to make sure your plastic surgeon is board certified, trained in the use of ThermiTight, and eager to share before and after pictures.
It’s not exactly a spa treatment.
If I had opted for general anesthesia, I might have enjoyed a deep snooze, but I chose local anesthesia. I did pop a Valium to take the edge off, but I was otherwise awake and felt a variety of things, namely the pinch of the shots that delivered numbing medication and the bizarre sensation that felt like the back of my arms being zipped closed, like overstuffed suitcases. That might have been the Valium talking, but it was definitely uncomfortable (and at times painful), and I was relieved to hear the machines power down after only half an hour.
Expect to recover (and cover up) for a month.
You can return to work immediately (or after the Valium wears off), but strenuous exercise is off-limits for the first month. With any kind of liposuction (traditional, laser, or with radiofrequency) you’ll need to wear a compression garment for a minimum of 48 hours, though you’ll likely want to cover up longer depending on the extent of your bruising. I had my treatment in May, which in retrospect was misguided since I ended up wearing long sleeves to cover the blue, purple, and yellow hues for a full month, at which point my family was already hitting the pool. My arms were also numb, which freaked me out (I thought the nerves were dead), but sensation returned gradually over the following 6 to 8 weeks. Turns out the numbness comes from swollen tissue dampening the skin’s nerve signaling—the same way it’s harder to hear someone talking under water. Then there were scary, marble-like lumps that I could feel under the skin that are actually just fluid-filled tissue. They’ll resolve on their own over 6 months, or you can apply warm compresses and even try massage. I did warm washcloths all of twice before abandoning the effort and found the kneading too painful. Perhaps you are tougher.
Temper your expectations.
Liposuction, even with radiofrequency, will not magically transform your limbs into dainty Angelina Jolie arms or shapely Madonna guns. If that’s your expectation, you will be disappointed. However, it will reduce fat by some 20 to 30%, which was enough to make my sleeves noticeably looser and lessen the amount of arm bulging outward below my shoulder. And while it’s tempting to hold my arms out to their full wingspan and critique the results, I need only revisit the before pictures to realize how much better they look—and after only 2 months, with greater improvements yet to come.