What Is the Recovery like after Reconstruction with an Implant or DIEP Flap?

For women who undergo mastectomy with expander or implant reconstruction, it is common to spend one or two nights in the hospital. Women are usually prescribed narcotic pain medicines and muscle relaxants which are usually weaned off in a couple weeks. Weekly visits are required to the plastic surgeon’s office to get the drains removed (usually within two weeks) and to undergo tissue expansion.

The number of clinic visits required for tissue expansion is variable, depending on the starting size of the breast, amount tolerated with each expansion, and final goal breast size. Driving is OK once narcotics are stopped, usually 2-3 weeks. For women with light duty jobs (no heavy lifting), work can frequently be resumed 3-4 weeks after surgery and most activities can be resumed by 6 weeks.

For women who undergo mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction, 3 nights in the hospital is common. One or two visits are required in the first couple weeks to have drains removed. Some women go home without any narcotic medications, and most women are weaned off of narcotics within one week. Women are usually able to drive within two weeks of surgery and return to light duty work within 3-4 weeks. Light activities are encouraged, and most activities can be resumed by 6 weeks and full activities by 12 weeks.

When comparing implant vs DIEP flap reconstructions in regard to recovery, there are several general considerations, although they might vary depending on the individual. In general, implant patients spend less time in the hospital (1-2 nights vs 3 nights). Pain tends to be very similar, and DIEP flap patients tend to wean off of narcotics a little faster. Implant patients tend to have more soreness and tenderness during the expansion phase which is not usually resolved until the expander is exchanged for a long term implant. Time to driving and time to work is usually comparable, but can