Nerve Damage After Plastic Surgery

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Any time an incision is made in the skin, there will be nerve damage. If you have a scar, you'll notice that the sensation in the area of your scar is less than the sensation of the skin on either side of the scar.

This is a minor nerve injury and, eventually, it becomes barely discernible. However, the nerve damage that occurs after plastic surgery can be catastrophic.

Young woman lying on operating table during facial plastic surgery
 Image Source / Getty Images

Every Plastic Surgeon's Nightmare

Nerve damage is a serious complication that anyone considering plastic surgery must be aware of. The nightmare of every plastic surgeon is the dreaded complication of permanent nerve damage.

While most nerve injuries are temporary, any loss of function—no matter how fleeting—generates sleepless nights for your surgeon.

While surgical nerve injury isn't always avoidable, it's especially objectionable in cosmetic plastic surgery because the procedures are elective as opposed to medically necessary. It can be devastating for a healthy person to be worse off after a procedure meant to enhance a normal structure.

Even when your surgeon provides the "standard of care," nerve injuries can occur.

Causes and Effects of Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can occur with any plastic surgery procedure. Injury occurs if nerves are stretched, cut, or cauterized.

Nerve damage includes a spectrum from sensory nerve deficits (numbness and tingling sensation) to motor nerve deficits (weakness or paralysis of certain muscles).

If a nerve is severely damaged, the effects may be permanent.

Recovery From Nerve Damage

Most nerve damage will recover spontaneously (without treatment) within six months to a year. In some cases, it can take two to three years for complete recovery.

As nerve function returns, you may experience itching, shooting pains, or electrical shock sensations.

If the nerve is severed, then numbness and the inability to move the affected muscle are permanent. Surgical intervention is required to restore function in these cases.

Nerve Damage by Procedure

Specific procedures have certain outcomes if a nerve is damaged. The tables below summarize which nerve injuries are associated with some plastic surgery procedures.

FACIAL ENHANCEMENT
Procedure Effect of Nerve Damage
Forehead/brow lift Loss of motion or weakness of forehead muscles Loss of feeling of eyelid skin, forehead, and scalp Inability to close eyes
Rhinoplasty (nose job) Numbness of nasal skin
Rhytidectomy (facelift) Facial numbness Inability to move face and make facial expressions (e.g., smiling) Drooping of the cheek, mouth, or lips Numbness of portions of the ear
Genioplasty (chin augmentation) Numbness, pain, and tingling of lips, chin, and cheeks Lower lip drooping
Neck lift Numbness of portions of the ear Drooping of the mouth or lips Neck skin numbness
BREAST SURGERY

Procedure

Effect of Nerve Damage

Breast augmentation

Increased or decreased nipple sensation
Numbness near incision
Numbness of breast skin

Mastopexy (breast lift)

Loss of nipple sensation
Numbness near incisions
Numbness of breast skin

Breast reduction

Loss of nipple sensation
Numbness near incisions
Numbness of breast skin
BODY CONTOURING

Procedure

Effect of Nerve Damage

Tummy tuck

Numbness and tingling of abdominal skin

Liposuction

Numbness at incision sites
Numbness and tingling in liposuctioned areas
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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Borsook D, Kussman BD, George E, Becerra LR, Burke DW. Surgically induced neuropathic pain: understanding the perioperative process. Ann Surg. 2013;257(3):403-12. doi:10.1097/SLA.0b013e3182701a7b

  2. Grinsell D, Keating CP. Peripheral nerve reconstruction after injury: a review of clinical and experimental therapies. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:698256. doi:10.1155/2014/698256

Additional Reading
  • Ghavami, A. Genioplasty. In Janis JE, ed: Essentials of Plastic Surgery. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2014.
  • Loftus JM. The Smart Woman's Guide to Plastic Surgery. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education; 2008.
  • Siemionow MZ, Eisenmann-Klein M. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. London: Springer-Verlag, 2010.
  • Thorne CHM, et al. Grabb and Smith's Plastic Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW); 2013.