What Helps Swelling Go Down After Surgery?

Medically Reviewed on 10/27/2022
Post-Operative Swelling
Genetics and lifestyle habits may affect the severity of post-operative swelling.

Swelling is a common post-surgical side effect. The body interprets any type of surgery as inflammation. Swelling and pain are symptoms of the inflammatory process. Although it appears disfiguring, it is treatable, and the swelling subsides after a few days.

What causes post-operative swelling?

Swelling is a natural body response to any injury.

  • During a surgical procedure, many incisions or cuts are made as an injury.
  • When the body starts recovering, the first stage of the recovery process is the inflammatory phase.
  • Symptoms of the inflammatory phase are swelling and pain

The swelling results from increased fluids carrying white blood cells and enzymes to the surgical site.

How can you reduce post-operative swelling?

Swelling is a normal healing process. According to a few studies, people may experience moderate to severe swelling during the first few days to a few weeks after the surgery and mild to moderate swelling in the beginning months after the surgery.

The following are the different ways to reduce swelling:

  • Stay hydrated: People should always stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Water is the most abundant element in the body. Medications used after surgery may cause gastrointestinal disturbances. Having plenty of water will help with this issue.
  • Apply ice packs: The application of ice for the initial hours after surgery helps reduce swelling. Ice packs cause blood vessels to contract. Proper care should be taken while applying ice packs to prevent any other damage. Ice packs should not be used for more than 15 minutes. Your doctor may advise ice pack application at least three to four times a day.
  • Dietary changes: Have a healthy diet rich in proteins, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Immediately after surgery, the body needs to heal and form tissues. Hence, the person needs to follow a diet accordingly. Salt intake should be reduced, as it acts as a diuretic and may flush out the body's water which is essential during this period. Salt intake after surgery helps in fluid retention and helps reduces postsurgical swelling.
  • Proper rest: Taking adequate rest should not be neglected. The body needs time to rebuild and heal after surgery. Giving rest to the body becomes essential to retain the normal functioning of the body.
  • Physical activities: You will not be able to do any strenuous activities after the surgery; instead, stick to light to moderate chores. Because there is swelling, the person should not stop all activities until the doctor advises.
  • Gentle massage: Massaging the affected area gently will help reduce swelling. After surgery, proper care should be taken when massaging the tissues, and this should only be done if a surgeon recommends it.
  • Elevation: Elevating the affected area of the body can aid in the drainage of fluids and the reduction of swelling. The elevation is effective in surgeries such as hand and leg surgery. The person should be upright in cases such as plastic surgery or breast augmentation. People who have had abdominal surgery should sit in a semi-reclined position.
  • Compression stockings: If you have undergone leg or hip surgery, you may notice swelling in one or both legs, which is common. Compression stockings may help reduce swelling and increase comfort. Avoid compression stockings over the incision until the wound is healed completely. Compression stockings mostly go up to your knees, but those that go higher are also available.
  • Medications: A few medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, that your surgeon may recommend after surgery can help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by surgery.


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What is the severity of post-operative swelling?

It is difficult to predict the amount of swelling that occurs after the surgery, but a few factors may increase the risk of swelling, such as:

  • The type of procedure you have undergone determines the severity of the swelling; noninvasive procedures have very minimal swelling than surgical or invasive procedures.
  • The surgical site (the area where the surgery has been done) affects the severity of the swelling; for example, surgeries that are done on the face lead to more swelling than those on the abdomen.
  • Genetics and lifestyle habits may also affect the severity of swelling. Some people may experience more swelling than others.
  • Swelling typically peaks three to seven days after surgery and then gradually subsides, with minor swelling visible after the first couple of months. However, it's crucial to get in touch with your surgeon immediately if the swelling seems severe and is accompanied by redness or pain or if you notice anything else unsettling.
Medically Reviewed on 10/27/2022
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