What is Swelling?
The first few days after surgery the sight of your face in the mirror can be quite distressing. You may even look at yourself and think “what did they do to me”? It is not uncommon to have swelling in the whole of your face and neck area. The swelling should peak by day 3 and then start to slowly decrease as you recover. You may find the swelling and pain is worse in the morning, but should improve throughout the day as you become more mobile and sit upright.
Sometimes you will wake up after surgery with a pressure bandage on your face. The bandage will feel very tight and uncomfortable. However, you will normally only be expected to wear the bandage for the first 24 hours after surgery. It has been found that the pressure bandage is very effective in preventing excessive swelling and bruising.
It would be expected that the worst of the swelling should disappear within 2 weeks. However, it can take up to 6-8 months before your tissue fluid levels return to a stable condition. In my case I had issues with the titanium plates so my swelling lasted a lot longer than most patients. Finally, it is not uncommon to experience “puffy days” after undertaking jaw surgery. Some patients, even 5 years after jaw surgery, still experience the odd “puffy day”. Just take a look at Kanye West's face from time to time. It does not last and you should have nothing to worry about.
It is vital to remain calm and not make the swelling any worse. It is essential that you do not stress your face or cry as this will cause the swelling to worsen in and around your cheek pockets.
So what can you do to reduce swelling?
Plenty of Rest
Although, I did not use arnica after my operation, I wish I had tried this. After my mum broke her ankle my friend bought her ionised arnica gel. Mum used the gel every day after a bath and it great reduced her swelling and bruising. She also felt that it helped to ease the pain. Please be aware that after your operation your face will be very painful and fragile so make sure that you do not rub the gel or cream in too vigorously. Also ensure that you do not get any of the gel or cream on any open external wounds.
Read more about acupuncture in my Patient’s Guide to Acupuncture eBooklet.
When I returned to the ward after my operation I was given ice packs in pillow cases that the nurses wrapped around my head so the packs touched my cheeks lightly without putting too much pressure on them. I continued to use ice packs for the first 4 weeks after surgery. I used ice packs 4 times a day and kept them on for duration of 15 minutes at a time. Once my surgeon was happy for me to use heat, I started to alternate ice and heat packs to promote healing. This was both beneficial and soothing for me.
It is important that you use a covering, such as a pillow case, when using ice packs. Do not apply ice directly to your skin as it can cause ice burns and blistering.
Please ask your surgeon before applying any heat to your face as he/she may advise against it in the early weeks following surgery. In my case, my surgeon said to use only cold compresses for the first 4 weeks after surgery.
Staying warm (in general) will also aid in recovery, as this allows oxygenated blood to flow freely throughout your body. This can help to decrease pressure in your face and relieve swelling. It can also act as an effective muscle relaxant.
Drink Plenty of Water
Omega 3 Fish Oils
When I am having a puffy day I aim to drink at least 3 cups of green tea. You may also like to drink a cup of green tea before you go to bed because it will help calm down the muscles, tissues and nerves in your face. If you do not enjoy the taste of green tea you may like to add in a teaspoon of honey. Not only does it add sweetness to the tea, it doubles up as a valuable antioxidant. Green tea can be found in most grocery stores. My favourite is Clippers Organic Green Tea.
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