Nerve Damage After Plastic Surgery

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.

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

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

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 of Function After Nerve Damage

Most nerve damage will recover spontaneously 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, and/or electrical shock sensations.

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

Nerve Damage Associated With Specific Procedures

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

Facial Enhancement


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

Blepharoplasty (Eyelid Lift)

Blindness from optic nerve damage

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


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


Effect of Nerve Damage

Tummy Tuck

Numbness and tingling of abdominal skin


Numbness at incision sites

Numbness and tingling in liposuctioned areas

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Article Sources
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  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.