By now, most people are familiar with the many uses of compression therapy. We know about compression stockings for everyday use, most of us have multiple versions of Spanx in the closet, and we all know someone who was in a very elaborate postoperative corset for at least a few weeks. While this is accepted practice, most people do not know the actual function of this compression, and why it is almost always recommended after plastic surgery.
Compression performs a few functions. For one, it holds the tissue together, and prevents it from getting moved around. This can be helpful to reduce any more trauma to the area, which can cause more swelling, bruising, or pain. In cases where things have been moved around a lot, the compression can help them stick back down where they are wanted. This can solidify re-draping of skin flaps and help things lie in place. In cases like abdominoplasty, where the skin flap is completely separated, it can also help things stick back down quicker, speeding up recovery and preventing dead space from accumulating fluid.
The second big advantage to compression is that it helps control swelling. It pushes out fluid, which can then go back into the bloodstream and be eliminated. Until the body recovers from the procedure and can do this well itself back near baseline levels, this is very helpful for controlling fluid backup. Having the swelling controlled also helps you get a better idea of what the result will ultimately be.
Another way that compression helps is by decreasing discomfort. It is not so much that it decreases discomfort, but more that without it, you are likely to increase discomfort. Feeling things move around and getting really bloated is usually much less pleasant; and most people report that the compression feels a little oppressive, but when they take it off they realize why they want to put it back on.
Finally, shaped garments can help your result get to its final goal. I always tell patients that I do not expect the garment to do the surgery for me. The contour should be on target form the procedure itself. But the garment can reinforce that shape, and in some case accentuate it. That being said, a badly fitting garment, or one that creases in the wrong place, can actually damage your result and cause quite a bit of trouble. There is also some evidence that excess compression may cause blood to backup in your veins, and this may have a very slight increase in the risk of a blood clot; but these issues are rare, and the risks of clotting are generally much more linked to the surgery itself than to what you are wearing afterwards. Your postoperative garment will, at times, feel like the enemy, especially when you are sleeping in it, or trying to. But overall, it is truly your good friend in your time of need. Make sure that you are using the one recommended by your surgeon, and wearing it in the way and the when that they suggest. Check in if there seems to be something wrong, and realize also that you will need to change garments as you continue to heal and change size or shape. And how do you know when you’re done? When you really want to burn the thing – or when your surgeon tells you you can let it go.