How Long Does It Take for Swelling to Go Down After Surgery?

Reviewed on 9/20/2022
Woman on an operating table during cosmetic surgery
Swelling after surgery usually peaks in the first days or weeks after surgery and then gradually goes down.

Swelling is a common side effect following surgery. It is temporary and a normal part of recovery. 

Depending on the invasiveness and extent of the surgical procedure, swelling usually peaks in the first days or weeks after surgery and then gradually goes down. 

Significant swelling can persist about two weeks after surgery though minor swelling can last for about two more weeks, and residual swelling may continue for another few weeks or even months after that.

It can be difficult to predict how much swelling a person will develop after a surgical procedure, but there are a few factors that can help estimate the amount of swelling that may occur:

  • The type of procedure 
    • Non- and minimally invasive procedures produce less swelling 
    • Invasive procedures produce more swelling
  • The body part being operated on, for example:
    • The face can swell more
    • The stomach may swell less
  • Lifestyle
    • Overall health and diet play a role
  • Genetics
    • Some people have a natural tendency to swell more or less

If the swelling does not improve gradually after surgery, tell your doctor as it may be a sign of a complication that requires medical attention.

What Are Symptoms of Swelling After Surgery?

Swelling after surgery may be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Redness around the incision
  • Clear drainage

Most of the time, swelling is an expected and natural part of the healing process. Tell your doctor if you have swelling following surgery and: 

  • Swelling increases suddenly
  • There is noticeable discharge 
  • You have issues with incisions like redness or increased pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Unexplained swelling in the legs, especially if you have not moved around much 

What Causes Swelling After Surgery?

Swelling is a natural response to injury, and the body responds to surgery as it would an injury. 

The inflammatory phase is the first part of the healing process, in which the body sends repair cells to the area of the surgery, causing swelling and pain. The swelling occurs due to fluids with white blood cells (that fight infection) and enzymes infiltrating the area. 

What Is the Treatment for Swelling After Surgery?

Patients are provided specific post-operative care guidelines to follow after surgery. These should be followed as outlined to help manage swelling and pain, ease recovery, and reduce the risk of infection. Instructions may include:

  • Rest 
    • Avoid strenuous activity, though if instructed or permitted, it is often good to walk around a bit each day to promote circulation 
    • Note the post-op instructions for how active you can be
  • Ice or cold compresses
    • Ice or cold compresses, especially in the first 24 to 48 hours, can help reduce swelling and pain
    • Apply as directed 
  • Compression 
    • If recovery involves compression garments or bandages, wear them as instructed
    • These can help control swelling
  • Elevate the area
    • Depending on the body part involved, elevating the area may be advised
    • A wedge pillow can help
  • Drink plenty of water 
    • It is important for healing to stay hydrated
  • Consume fruits and vegetables
    • A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables is anti-inflammatory
    • Avoid processed foods
  • Don’t smoke

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Reviewed on 9/20/2022

Image source: iStock Images