How Long After Breast Augmentation Can I Go Back to Work?

I am a waitress so I am constantly walking & moving around. I work at a very fast pace restaurant where we do not get many breaks...My job also requires me to lift things such as trays, tubs full of dishes, ice buckets, & also I have to mop. I'm pretty sure I can get someone to help me out when I return to work so that I won't have to do all of that since I know it will be a while before I can lift. I was thinking maybe 5 days off...Would you recommend that or should I get more time off?

Doctor Answers 28

Back to Work after Augmentation

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Dear Momof2,
Thank you for your post. There are a lot of variables to account for after breast augmentation and what to expect in the recovery process. The following is an outline based on some of these variables. 

1. Pain: In general, breast augmentation is tolerated very well. When the implant is placed sub-facial or sub-glandular, i.e. above the muscle, there is very little pain post-operative. The muscle is left in place and in general, when I perform this technique, women have surgery on Friday, and are back to work (as long as they are not lifting heavy objects) on Monday. When the implant is placed sub-muscular, then there more pain and soreness as the muscle has been elevated which is similiar to having a pulled or torn muscle. This creates more swelling and takes longer to heal. In these case, most women take at least a week off of work.

2. Swelling and Size: It is very common to be about a size bigger right after surgery than what your final result will be. Swelling starts to occur right after surgery and tends to peak in the first week. After about a month you will have lost most of the swelling, but still not completely at baseline. After about another 3 months or so, you will have lost 99% of your swelling, but still have a pretty good idea of your final size at 1 month. I wouldn't spend a lot of money on bras until 3 months though, as they might not fit perfectly after all the swelling goes away. Also, the more activity you have, the longer the swelling stays, the more that needs to be done as far as lift etc. with surgery, the longer your swelling stays. As stated above, going below the muscle tends to produce more swelling and lasts for longer.

3. Scars: The natural healing process undergoes multiple phases, but in general, the first phase is the inflamatory phase were any scar will be firmer and may turn red or darker initially. This tends to last for 3 months. After this phase is the resolution phase where the scar inflammation goes away and all scars will be at their baseline at 1 year. The scars are mostly at their baseline at 6 months. The scars should be minimal if placed well, and sutured properly. I also like to protect the scars from stretching or widening in the first few months with surgical skin tape. The incision will be weak at first and susceptible to stretch or widening.

4. Massage: Your doctor may recommend early or late massage, depending on what is trying to be accomplished. In general, early massage is to manipulate a high implant or stretch a constricted area, such as in tubular breast syndrome, and late massage is to help fight capsular contraction. Search 'Breast Massage' to find my recommendations on this.

5. Exercise: In general, I ask my patients to keep away from aerobic activities in the first 2 weeks following surgery. Increased activity can increase swelling and hyper-swelling can cause stretch marks. Following this, 'non-bouncing' aerobic activity is fine, such as speed walking or cycling, but would like to keep the implants from moving too much until the capsule that forms around the implant has a chance to heal and become stronger. At 6 weeks, I clear any type of activity.

6. Infection: Infection after augmentation is very rare. Most surgeon give post-operative antibiotics to help protect you from infection.

7. Hematoma/Seroma: These are also very rare after augmentation. If the pocket for the implant that is made during surgery is a hand in glove fit, then there is very little room for any fluid to collect. It is important that the surgical pocket be free of any bleeding prior to closure to keep a hematoma from happening. If a hematoma does occur, it is important to drain the hematoma to prevent capsular contraction.

8. Sleeping: I ask women to sleep on their backs with their post-operative bra on after surgery to keep the implants in their proper position until the capsule that forms around the implant has a chance to heal.

I hope this has answered most of your post-operative questions.

Best Wishes,
Pablo Prichard, MD

Phoenix Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 42 reviews

Its important to take enough time off work after breast augmentation

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It is very important to take enough time off of work after breast augmentation to allow tissues to heal and the capsules to form properly.  I think the temptation is to minimize breast augmentation surgery and make people feel like it is just a small thing, and we are great surgeons who can get them back to normal life the next day, or even the next week.  The truth is that it is real surgery, we really cut muscles and other tissues to do it, those tissues can bleed or form scar tissue or get infected, and premature return to activity increases the chances that one of those things will happen.  Just last week I was covering for a colleague who was out of town, and his office called with a patient who was 10 days out from breast augmentation and noticed sudden swelling and pain in her left breast after shampooing her own hair the night before.  The original surgery itself was done well, but she used too much force on her muscle, or stretched it a bit too much just washing her hair, and it started bleeding.  We took her back to surgery that day and removed some blood from around the implant.  This is an usual occurrence, but I tell you about it because it points out the need to protect the tissues while they are in the early stages of healing.  Anyone with a strenuous or physically demanding job, including mopping, lifting, pushing, overhead reaching, and the like should take special care.  This includes people in jobs like waitresses/servers, hairstylists, nurses, military and police personnel, warehouse and retail workers, production line workers, and exotic dancers.  If you have a strenuous job like that, you should take at least a full week off of work, and then when you return from that you should be on modified, or light duties in which you can avoid those types of activities that put a strain on your chest muscles, for at least another 2 - 3 weeks.  For instance, servers can do hostessing or taking orders with helpers carrying trays and bussing tables so that they don't have to lift or reach.  I know this may sound like overkill to some, but the reality is that hematomas, or bleeding around implants, can, and does, happen even 3 or 4 weeks after surgery.  I know, because I have seen it more than once.  Many people do fine with return to activity sooner, but in my opinion, they are tempting fate, and risking something like this happening.  These guidelines apply mainly to submuscular placement of implants, and I would expect those time frames to be reduced by about a week or so if the implants are above the muscle.  They are also MY guidelines, and your own surgeon may have his or her own guidelines based on his or her experience.  Check with your surgeon first before finalizing your work schedule.  Good luck.

Joseph L. Grzeskiewicz, MD
San Diego Plastic Surgeon

Heading back to work after breast augmentation

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Some patients in my practice return to work after a few days but given the very physical nature of your work, its not unrealistic to expect that you would need two weeks off before before returning to light or reduced duties.  Its essential to avoid heavy lifting for six weeks.

In about 3 weeks or so

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Generally, I advise patients that they can start doing more intense physical activity at 3 weeks, and upper body strength exercises at 6 weeks after surgery.You can probably return to work in two to three weeks if your recovery is going well, but I would recommend you don't lift anything heavy until 6 weeks after surgery.

However, you should ask your surgeon as they may have different guidelines. A good supportive sports bra will help reduce swelling.

Breast Augmentation Recovery

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I will clear my patients to start exercise as tolerated or resume heavy lifting in 3-4 weeks after their surgery *gradually*   The key word here is gradually.  This means to slowly resume your exercise routines and advance in a step by step fashion.  Please talk to your PS about his/her specific recommendations.  Best wishes.

Dr. Basu

Houston, TX

Returning to work after breast augmentation

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Many of my breast augmentation patients could return to waiting tables in 1 week if they do not have to lift much.  From the way you describe your work I would recommend at least 2 weeks.

Gary Hall,MD

Gary Hall, MD (retired)
Kansas City Plastic Surgeon

Recovery following breast augmentation

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Recovery following breast augmentation surgery will vary from patient to patient. Pain thresholds, the pocket used and the patient's job will all influence discussions regarding return to work. I always like to be safe and cautious on behalf of my patients and therefore I always recommend a 'worse case scenario' rather than the best case scenario. Generally speaking this will range between 1-2 weeks.


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The answer to ALL plastic surgery questions is always the depends. That's what most of us love about this career. Every patient is different. The answer to your question is it depends on the extent of the surgery and what kind of job you have. For people whose job does not require any heavy lifting such as computer work, I allow them to return to work within days of surgery. For people who have to lift, I work with them. What I mean is that you can't be expected to lose your job so I take it as on a case by case basis. If you are sore when you lift, it is too early. If your implants don't settle, it is too early. Usually it takes around 6 weeks so try to do some light work. 

Return To Work Generally Within 1 Week; Don't Lift Objects for at Least 4 Weeks

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Thank you for your question; it's a good one. If it were not for the lifting of trays, etc, you would most likely be able to return to work within one week. Generally, I recommend to patients that they can return to work once they are off narcotic pain medication. However, for the lifting portion of your job, I'd recommend waiting at least one month. Activities that increase the risk of breast implant displacement, wound breakdown, or hematoma or seroma development are discouraged until 4-6 weeks post-op. Is there any way you can return to work sooner without doing the lifting?

Breast Augmentation Recovery

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Recovery from breast augmentation surgery varies from patient to patient. We generally recommend that patients take a week off from work after this procedure. Occasionally, patients return to work even sooner, especially if they have a desk job.

Patients are not allowed to return to strenuous activities for at least four to six weeks. At that point, they are allowed to resume all of their normal activities.

Each patient is unique and should be considered individually. Since you're a waitress, you may have to modify your job description so that you are less active in the immediate post-operative period. Activities such as lifting heavy ice buckets, trays of dishes and mopping the floor are strenuous activities that should be avoided for at least six weeks.

If you're unable to modify your job description, you should delay your return to work. Although inconvenient, this approach avoids unnecessary complications which can occur when patients are active too soon following breast augmentation surgery.

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.