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Despite the intense levels of pain and recovery times involved, invasive cosmetic surgery remains extremely popular in the UK and throughout the world.

But which cosmetic surgery is the most painful? And which procedures carry with them the longest recovery periods?

In this post we will examine three plastic surgery procedures that, according to many patients around the world, are typically the most difficult to endure.

Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck)

According to the most recent annual audit from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), abdominoplasties - also known as ‘tummy tucks’ - were the fourth-most popular cosmetic procedure in the UK in 2018, rising in demand by 6% compared to 2017.

The procedure flattens the abdomen by removing excess fat and skin and tightening the underlying muscle. Broadly speaking, there are two types of abdominoplasty, with different work involved for each.

Partial abdominoplasty

This involves:

  • making a large cut across the lower abdomen
  • separating the skin from the abdominal wall below the belly button
  • removing excess fat and skin
  • pulling together the remaining skin and stitching it in place

Full abdominoplasty

This involves:

  • making a large incision across the lower abdomen, from hip to hip
  • making a second incision to free the belly button from the tissue that surrounds it
  • separating the skin from the abdominal wall
  • realigning the abdominal muscles
  • removing excess fat and skin
  • cutting a new hole for the belly button and stitching this back in place
  • pulling together the remaining skin and stitching it in place

According to the NHS, it should take around six weeks to fully recover from the procedure. However, that recovery can be challenging and extremely painful.

Patients will need to wear a special type of corset to protect the affected area for around six weeks, during which time many people are unable to stand up straight. In addition, side effects often include bruising, swelling, raised scars and numbness.

According to AEDIT, many surgeons would rate a tummy tuck a 4-6 out of 10 in terms of pain.

Speaking to Women’s Health about her painful experience recovering from an abdominoplasty, Erin S. said: “I could not roll over, sit up or grab anything further than a few inches away. I needed help standing, getting repositioned in bed, basically everything.”

Tumescent liposuction

This procedure is different to other popular forms of liposuction, such as laser and waterjet liposuction, in that it requires suction tubes to be inserted into the appropriate part of the body and connected to a vacuum machine.

The level of pain experienced during a liposuction procedure, if all is well, is said to be moderate, but increases significantly the more fat is removed - particularly if it is taken from different parts of the body at the same time.

Full recovery typically takes around two weeks, but requires the patient to wear a support corset or compression bandages.

However, bruising, lumpiness, numbness and discolouration of the skin are all common side effects that can last up to six months after liposuction.

AEDIT rates the procedure between 3-6 out of 10 on its pain scale.

Breast augmentation

Breast enlargement or augmentation is the most popular cosmetic procedure among women in the UK, with 7,745 operations taking place in 2018, according to the most recent BAAPS annual audit.

The procedure involves:

  • Making an incision in the skin next to or below the breast
  • Positioning the implant either between your breast tissue and chest muscle, or behind your chest muscle
  • Stitching the incision

It typically takes around six weeks to be able to resume your normal activities. However, side effects and complications can sometimes include nerve problems in the nipples, ruptured implants, damaged breast tissue, and infection.

Speaking on Reddit, one user described her experience recovering from breast augmentation:

“My incisions for the implants are in the crease below my breast so I have sharp pain there - particularly when I lift my arms too high or stretch at a weird angle. Then, I have overall pressure and throbbing pain over the entire breast because of the muscle and skin stretching/tightness. It sort of feels like pins and needles over the entire area and if you've ever been engorged due to breastfeeding, it feels a lot like that but way more painful. I can't feel the implants themselves but just a lot of pressure/tightness.

“It has been five days of ups and downs in terms of pain. The first day was easy as I was still on the medication that I was given in the operating room but days two and three were really hard. I definitely have moments where I feel the pain more intensely than other times. It ranges from mild discomfort to extremely painful.”

AEDIT rates the pain of a breast augmentation procedure as between 3 and 5 out of 10.

The truth is that finding a definitive answer to the question ‘which cosmetic surgery procedure is the most painful?’ is not at all easy and will differ from person to person, operation to operation. However, it is clear that the procedures in this list are certainly some of the most painful, with extremely challenging recovery periods.

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