Cosmetic Surgery Tips

Nerve Damage After Tummy Tuck

Nerve damage is a very common side effect of tummy tuck surgery. Nerves are delicate, and the incision made during tummy tuck surgery can cause them to become damaged. This can lead to numbness or pain in the area where the nerve was injured.

This is frustrating because it’s not an obvious sign of nerve damage—you don’t feel a sharp pain or see signs of swelling or discoloration where the nerve has been damaged. Instead, you just notice that you’re numb or that something doesn’t seem right with the area.

The good news is that nerve damage after tummy tuck surgery is usually temporary and resolves itself over time. However, if you’ve experienced numbness or pain lasting longer than 4 weeks after your procedure, it’s important to speak to your doctor about what might be causing it so they can help determine how long it will last and what treatment options may be available for treating this side effect of tummy tuck surgery.

Right here on Cosmeticsurgerytips, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on tummy tuck complications years later, symptoms of torn internal stitches after tummy tuck, gastrointestinal problems after tummy tuck, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.

Nerve Damage After Tummy Tuck

Any time an incision is made in the skin, there will be nerve damage. If you have a scar, you’ll notice that the sensation in the area of your scar is less than the sensation of the skin on either side of the scar.

This is a minor nerve injury and, eventually, it becomes barely discernible. However, the nerve damage that occurs after plastic surgery can be catastrophic.

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Every Plastic Surgeon’s Nightmare

Nerve damage is a serious complication that anyone considering plastic surgery must be aware of. The nightmare of every plastic surgeon is the dreaded complication of permanent nerve damage.

While most nerve injuries are temporary, any loss of function—no matter how fleeting—generates sleepless nights for your surgeon.

While surgical nerve injury isn’t always avoidable, it’s especially objectionable in cosmetic plastic surgery because the procedures are elective as opposed to medically necessary. It can be devastating for a healthy person to be worse off after a procedure meant to enhance a normal structure.

Even when your surgeon provides the “standard of care,” nerve injuries can occur.

Causes and Effects of Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can occur with any plastic surgery procedure.1 Injury occurs if nerves are stretched, cut, or cauterized.

Nerve damage includes a spectrum from sensory nerve deficits (numbness and tingling sensation) to motor nerve deficits (weakness or paralysis of certain muscles).

If a nerve is severely damaged, the effects may be permanent.

Recovery From Nerve Damage

Most nerve damage will recover spontaneously (without treatment) within six months to a year.2 In some cases, it can take two to three years for complete recovery.

As nerve function returns, you may experience itching, shooting pains, or electrical shock sensations.

If the nerve is severed, then numbness and the inability to move the affected muscle are permanent. Surgical intervention is required to restore function in these cases.

Nerve Damage by Procedure

Specific procedures have certain outcomes if a nerve is damaged. The tables below summarize which nerve injuries are associated with some plastic surgery procedures.

ProcedureEffect of Nerve Damage
Forehead/brow liftLoss of motion or weakness of forehead muscles Loss of feeling of eyelid skin, forehead, and scalp Inability to close eyes
Rhinoplasty (nose job)Numbness of nasal skin
Rhytidectomy (facelift)Facial numbness Inability to move face and make facial expressions (e.g., smiling) Drooping of the cheek, mouth, or lips Numbness of portions of the ear
Genioplasty (chin augmentation)Numbness, pain, and tingling of lips, chin, and cheeks Lower lip drooping
Neck liftNumbness of portions of the ear Drooping of the mouth or lips Neck skin numbness


Effect of Nerve Damage

Breast augmentation

Increased or decreased nipple sensation
Numbness near incision
Numbness of breast skin

Mastopexy (breast lift)

Loss of nipple sensation
Numbness near incisions
Numbness of breast skin

Breast reduction

Loss of nipple sensation
Numbness near incisions
Numbness of breast skin


Effect of Nerve Damage

Tummy tuck

Numbness and tingling of abdominal skin


Numbness at incision sites
Numbness and tingling in liposuctioned areas

Tummy Tuck Complications Years Later

In 2017, Americans spent more than $6.5 billion on cosmetic surgery. From breast augmentation to eyelid surgery, procedures to change our appearance are becoming increasingly common. However, these surgeries don’t come without risks.

1. Hematoma

Hematoma is a pocket of blood that resembles a large, painful bruise. It occurs in 1 percent of breast augmentation procedures. It’s also the most common complication after a facelift, occurring in an average of 1 percent of patients. It occurs more commonly in males than females.

Hematoma is a risk in nearly all surgeries. Treatment sometimes includes additional operations to drain the blood if the collection of blood is large or growing rapidly. This may require another procedure in the operating room and sometimes additional anesthetic.

2. Seroma

Seroma is a condition that occurs when serum, or sterile body fluid, pools beneath the surface of the skin, resulting in swelling and sometimes pain. This can occur after any surgery, and it’s the most common complication following a tummy tuck, occurring in 15 to 30 percent of patients.

Because seromas can become infected, they’re often drained with a needle. This effectively removes them, although there’s a chance of recurrence.

3. Blood loss

As with any surgery, some blood loss is expected. However, uncontrolled blood loss can lead to a drop in blood pressure with potentially deadly outcomes.

Blood loss can happen while on the operating table, but also internally, after surgery.

4. Infection

Though postoperative care includes steps to reduce the risk of infection, it remains one of the more common complications of plastic surgery.

For instance, infections occur in 1.1 to 2.5 percentTrusted Source of people who undergo breast augmentation.

The skin infection cellulitis may occur after surgery. In some cases, infections can be internal and severe, requiring intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

5. Nerve damage

The potential for nerve damage is present in many different types of surgical procedures. Numbness and tingling are common after plastic surgery and can be signs of nerve damage. Most often the nerve damage is temporary, but in some cases it can be permanent.

Most women experience a change in sensitivity after breast augmentation surgery, and 15 percent experience permanent changes in nipple sensation.

6. Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where blood clots form in deep veins, usually in the leg. When these clots break off and travel to the lungs, it’s known as pulmonary embolism (PE).

These complications are relatively uncommon, affecting only 0.09 percent of all patients undergoing plastic surgery. However, these clots can be fatal.

Abdominoplasty procedures have a slightly higher rate of DVT and PE, affecting just under 1 percent of patients. The risk of clots is 5 times higher for people having multiple procedures than it is for people having only one procedure.

7. Organ damage

Liposuction can be traumatic for the internal organs.

Visceral perforations or punctures can occur when the surgical probe comes into contact with internal organs. Repairing these injuries can require additional surgery.

The perforations may also be fatal.

8. Scarring

Surgery typically results in some scarring. Since cosmetic surgery seeks to improve the way you look, scars can be particularly troubling.

Hypertrophic scarring, for instance, is an abnormally red and thick raised scar. Along with smooth, hard keloid scars, it occurs in 1.0 to 3.7 percent of tummy tucks.

9. General appearance dissatisfaction

Most people are satisfied with their postoperative outcomes, and research suggests most women are satisfied with breast augmentation surgery. But disappointment with the results is a real possibility. People who undergo breast surgery may experience contouring or asymmetry problems, while those undergoing facial surgeries could simply not like the result.

10. Complications of anesthesia

Anesthesia is the use of medication to make you unconscious. It allows patients to undergo surgery without feeling the procedure.

General anesthesia can sometimes lead to complications. These include lung infections, stroke, heart attacks, and death. Anesthesia awareness, or waking up in the middle of surgery, is very rare but also possible.

More common anesthesia risks include:

  • shivering
  • nausea and vomiting
  • waking up confused and disoriented
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The takeaway

On the whole, plastic surgery complications are rare. According to a 2018 review of over 25,000 cases, complications occur in fewer than 1 percent of outpatient surgeries.

As with most surgeries, plastic surgery complications are more common in certain people. For example, smokers, older adults, and people who are obese are more prone to complications.

You can reduce your risk of unwanted side effects by fully vetting your doctor and their credentials. You should also investigate the facility where your surgery will take place.

Educating yourself about the procedure and possible risks, and discussing your concerns with your doctor, will also help you manage your expectations and reduce the risk of complications.

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