Liposuction is a surgical procedure that uses a suction technique to remove fat cells from specific areas of the body, such as the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, arms, or neck. Liposuction also shapes (contours) these areas. Other names for liposuction include lipoplasty and body contouring.
You might be a candidate for liposuction if you have too much body fat in specific spots but otherwise have a stable body weight.
When you gain weight, fat cells increase in size and volume, but after about the age of 4 you never actually develop any new fat cells. The cells only expand and decrease as your weight fluctuates.
Liposuction reduces the number of fat cells in a specific area. The amount of fat removed depends on the appearance of the area and the volume of fat. The resulting contour changes are generally permanent — as long as your weight remains stable.
After liposuction, skin molds to the new contours of the treated areas. If you have good skin tone and elasticity, your skin is likely to appear smooth. If your skin is thin with poor elasticity, however, skin in treated areas might appear loose, in which case you may want to investigate other skin tightening methods such as radiofrequency or lasers.
Liposuction doesn't improve cellulite dimpling or other skin surface irregularities. Likewise, liposuction doesn't remove stretch marks.
Techniques used for liposuction
How your liposuction procedure is done depends on the specific technique that's used:
• Tumescent liposuction. This is the most common type of liposuction. The surgeon injects a sterile solution — a mixture of salt water, which aids fat removal, an anesthetic (lidocaine) to relieve pain and a drug (epinephrine) that causes the blood vessels to constrict — into the area that's being treated. The fluid mixture causes the affected area to swell and stiffen.
The surgeon then makes small cuts into your skin and inserts a thin tube called a cannula under your skin. The cannula is connected to a vacuum that suctions fat and fluids from your body. Your body fluid might be replenished through an intravenous (IV) line.
• Ultrasound-assisted liposuction (UAL). This type of liposuction is sometimes used in conjunction with tumescent liposuction. During UAL, the surgeon inserts a metal rod that emits ultrasonic energy under your skin. This ruptures the fat cell walls and liquefies the fat for easier removal.
• Laser-assisted liposuction (LAL). This technique uses high-intensity laser light to liquefy fat for removal. During LAL, the surgeon inserts a laser fiber through a small incision and emulsifies fat deposits. The fat is then removed via a cannula.
• Powered liposuction. This type of liposuction uses a cannula that moves in a rapid back-and-forth motion. This vibration allows the surgeon to pull out tough fat more easily. Powered liposuction might sometimes cause less pain and swelling and can allow the surgeon to remove fat with more precision, especially on smaller areas, such as the arms, knees or ankles.
Post surgery and recovery
Expect some pain, swelling and bruising after the procedure. You might need to wait a few days before returning to work and a few weeks before resuming your normal activities — including exercise.
Your surgeon might prescribe medication to help control pain and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. You also might need to wear tight compression garments, which help reduce swelling, for a few weeks. During this time, expect some contour irregularities as the remaining fat settles into position.
After liposuction, swelling typically subsides within a few weeks. By this time, the treated area should look less bulky. Within several months, expect the treated area to have a leaner appearance.
Liposuction results are long lasting
Liposuction results are generally long lasting if you maintain your weight. If you gain weight after liposuction, your fat distribution might change. For example, you might accumulate fat around your abdomen regardless of what areas were originally treated.