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The breast implants recovery stages involve some pain, although it is generally "manageable" with the right pain management treatment. The first 2-3 days require the vast majority of medications, particularly those used to control post-op discomfort.
Instead of relying solely on narcotics to control pain during the first few days of recovery, some surgeons recommend pain pumps or pain injections for additional comfort.
Pain pumps resemble a small balloon that carries numbing medications, which slowly "drip" through a catheter and into the breast area for 2-3 days when pain management system is the most needed.
However, some plastic surgery experts prefer pain injections (e.g., Exparel) at the very end of surgery. Pain medications whose effects can last up to 14 hours are directly injected into the implant pocket without the "inconvenience" of carrying pain pumps.
About 3-7 days after surgery most patients are off their strong pain medications, particularly narcotics. Ideally these drugs should be discontinued once postop discomfort becomes more "manageable" or more tolerable since their prolonged use is linked to constipation, lethargy, and even longer recovery.
Should the patients wish to continue their pain medications after 5-7 days, most are advised to shift to non-narcotics such as Tylenol.
Instead of actual pain, some patients have more "issue" about the tightness and cramping that may not just affect the breast area, but the shoulders, neck, and back as well. These symptoms are generally controlled by muscle relaxants such as Valium, although these should not be taken together with painkillers—at least taken one hour apart—to avoid lethargy and drowsiness.
Most patients can return to their desk-job work 5-7 days after surgery, although it remains in their best interest to avoid rigorous workout, particularly if it involves the upper extremity, for at least three weeks. Nevertheless, light exercise such as 3-5 short walks throughout the day is highly ideal to improve healing.
While pain in the breast area generally dissipates just after a few days, it is not uncommon to experience some level of pain in the back and shoulders. Doctors attribute this to the sudden change in the body mass, and possibly the patient's tendency to hunch forward her shoulders to "protect" her breasts. However, light stretching and postural awareness are usually enough to address these issues.
The breast implants recovery stages may differ from patient to patient, thus it is critical to stick to one's doctor's specific recommendations.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.