Complete Guide to Wearing Compression Garments After Surgery


Dr Bernard Beldholm

If there is one thing that confuses patients after they’ve had body contouring, it’s whether or not (and how!) to wear a compression garment. This article will answer all your questions about wearing compression garments. We gathered the most common questions from patients across the globe to create the most comprehensive guide you will find anywhere online. In this article, you will learn about the benefits of compression, how to wear one properly, and even some tips for hiding your post-op garment under clothes.

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Why should I wear a compression garment after body contouring?

Compression garment are an important part of postoperative care. Wearing a compression garment can make an impact on your surgical results, speeding recovery and helping to shape your new contours. They speed the healing process, which means you can get back to living your life sooner after surgery.5

Wearing a compression garment takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation when it comes to your results. They help stabilize and shape your body’s new contours so they heal as your surgeon intended. Patients who wear compression garments may experience less pain compared to those who do not wear them.7

Effect Compression Garment

So, what do compression garments do exactly? The idea is to help close the space that is created within the abdomen as a part of body contouring surgery. When a patient undergoes a tummy tuck, the flap of skin is elevated off the abdominal wall, leaving a space. The same thing occurs with body lift procedures, which also create a gap between skin and tissue. Liposuction, too, results in a void where the fat used to be.

When skin and muscle are elevated, you want them to heal in the correct position. One goal of compression garments is to encourage tissue to re-adhere to your abdominal wall by closing the space with light constant pressure. Compression may help tissues re-adhere exactly as intended by keeping everything in its proper place.6

Benefits of wearing compression garments after surgery

Compression garments serve many purposes to help aid your recovery after a tummy tuck, lipo or body lift. Some of the key benefits include:

Benefits Compression Garment

  • Reduced swelling: If you are wondering how to reduce swelling after a contouring procedure, a compression garment will do just that. It helps restrict the edema that occurs after surgery by applying firm pressure to the area.4
  • Lower risk of bruising and bleeding: Wear post-op garments are shown to reduce hematoma and decrease the chance of postoperative bleeding.4
  • Speeds the healing process: Patients who wear compression garments after body contouring surgery may be able to return to their normal daily activities sooner than those who do not. They can improve oxygen levels in soft tissue, allowing faster tissue repair.1 Some brands like Lipo-elastic even have perforated material that touches only some parts of the skin to increase blood circulation. Increased circulation promotes faster recovery.
  • Shapes & contours: A compression garment can help support and reinforce your new curves as you heal. For example, after liposuction wearing one is especially beneficial for patients with poor skin elasticity since after-surgery garments promote skin retraction.4
  • Potentially reduced risk of keloid scarring: Keloids can form when excess scar tissue grows over a healed wound. Compression therapy is the first line of defense against keloids since they can soften and break up keloid scar formations.3,8
  • Reduced infection risk: Like a Band-Aid, a compression garment can shield your skin from outside germs like a barrier. It protects the wound while you heal.
  • Less pain & discomfort after surgery: Light pressure and support can relieve pain symptoms.2 For example, think about when you bang your shin. Your instinct is to apply pressure to the area with your hand. Why? It makes the injured area feel better. The same principle applies after trauma from a surgical procedure. Again, the key is light pressure.

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Common questions about post-op compression garments

How long do I need to wear compression garments after liposuction, tummy tuck or body lift surgery?

Patients typically wear a compression garment for 4-6 weeks following larger body contouring procedures on average. For minor procedures, two weeks may be enough. The length of time you will need to wear a post-surgery garment may vary based on your surgeon’s protocol. It can depend on the amount of skin and/or fat removed, how much loose skin remains, your skin elasticity and other factors.

If you find wearing a post-surgical garment uncomfortable, it is worth mentioning it to your surgeon. They may be able to make adjustments or advise you on how to make things feel a bit more comfortable as your recover.

Do I need to wear compression garments 24/7?

After surgery, many surgeons recommend wearing the garment day and night for the first 1-3 weeks, except to shower. Of course, this can vary depending on the exact procedure and extent of surgery. During the second phase of recovery (usually weeks 3-6), you may only need to wear the garment during the daytime. Some surgeons recommend wearing it around the clock, even in recovery phase two, if you can tolerate it. Again, this boils down to your surgeon’s aftercare protocol.

What is the difference between a compression garment and an abdominal binder?

This is a tricky question. Some surgeons use the words interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same thing. Both are post-surgical devices that apply light pressure to promote healing and reduce swelling.

Many patients will initially wear a binder first thing after a tummy tuck. Binders are a type of wrapping that is typically made from a stretchy, elastic material with a Velcro closure. The concept is similar to an Ace bandage that you might find in the first aid aisle of the pharmacy. A tummy tuck binder is larger and a bit sturdier than that, but you get the idea.

A compression garment is more like an article of clothing. Instead of Velcro, compression garments usually have hooks or zippers for closure. They are also typically larger than compression binders. The larger surface area is useful for patients who have undergone multiple body contouring procedures in areas like the belly, hips and thighs.

You may be asked to wear both types at different stages of your recovery. Of course, this can vary depending on which procedures you have had, and your surgeon’s aftercare instructions. Some surgeons prefer to use only one or the other.

Can I remove my binder or garment to shower?

It is safe (and necessary) to remove your compression garment when showering. Most patients are cleared to shower 48 hours after a tummy tuck, liposuction or a body lift. When you are done bathing, pat yourself dry with a clean towel. When your skin is completely dry, it is time to put your compression garment back on.

What is the right garment to wear after a tummy tuck?

It is important to choose a high-quality device to minimize your post-op discomfort. This will make your recovery a little easier.

Dr. Beldholm advises his patients to wear a compression garment for six weeks following larger surgeries such as body lifts and tummy tucks. For smaller procedures like breast augmentation or a breast lift, you will be placed in a surgical bra for four weeks.

Given the time you will spend wearing it, you don’t want to make your recovery harder by choosing a cheap, low-quality garment. It will probably be more uncomfortable. It is a decision you will likely regret. Dr. Beldholm’s patients will not have to worry about researching and buying garments on their own because he will simply provide you with a comfortable, high-quality compression garment to wear after surgery. It is included the price. (In fact, you will get two!)

The quality of a compression garment is very important. It can vary depending on the manufacturer. Here are some features to look for buying one:

  • Antibacterial properties: For example, Lipoelect is a brand that makes garments with silver nano particles to prevent bacterial growth on skin. This may lower the spread of microbes, which the company says will speed healing and reduce odor.
  • Breathable materials: Opt for a blend of breathable materials to improve your comfort. You should avoid cheap, scratchy or itchy fabrics that will be too abrasive for healing skin. Breathable materials will reduce sweating, keeping you dry and comfortable.
  • Durability: A good supportive fabric with plenty of stretch and durability will do the job well.
  • Moisture-wicking fabric: Such materials are designed to keep your skin dry. This will not only make you more comfortable, but will also reduce bacterial spread since bacteria thrive in moisture and heat. It may also reduce odor caused by bacteria.
  • Flat seams or seamless design: This will help to avoid unnecessary irritation on the skin as you heal.
  • Quality closures: Unlike binders which have Velcro closures, compression garments have zippers or hook-and-eye closures. Zippers and clasps should be easy to reach for your comfort. This will reduce your strain when taking the garment on and off.

Zippers should glide smoothly. You do not want to get stuck tugging on a stuck zipper after surgery. Hooks should be easy to fasten without strain. Understandably, you will be most sensitive the days immediately following surgery. Your caretaker will be able to assist in putting the garment on and removing it if you find it too difficult to do on your own at first.

Download our short guide: “Preparing for your Abdominoplasty Surgery Checklist”

Preparing for your Tummy Tuck Surgery

Do I have to sleep in my compression garment?

Yes, typically you will need to wear a compression garment to bed for the first four weeks. For extensive procedures likes tummy tucks and body lifts, you will wear it full time for four weeks including when you sleep. You can take the garment off to go to sleep during weeks 5 and 6. For smaller procedures, Dr. Beldholm recommends wearing a surgical bra 24/7 for four weeks.

Keep in mind there is typically no harm in wearing the garment longer or more often than recommended, bedtime included. Some women even report feeling more secure when they have it on.

Can I remove my tummy tuck garment for a short time?

Yes, it is safe to remove the garment for a short time. You will need to remove it when you take a shower, for example. The garment will also need to be laundered to keep it fresh and clean. It is a good idea, however, to purchase a second compression garment so you do not have to rush doing the laundry.

You may also want to remove your compression garment for a short time if you feel you need a break from it. While you should strive to wear it as much as possible in the weeks after surgery, you can take it off occasionally if you need a few minutes of relief. When you are not wearing the garment, it is a good idea to wear clothing that is soft and loose. This will make the fabric less likely to disturb your incisions. Avoid strenuous activities or lifting anything weighing more than 2.5kg when you are not wearing it.

Leaving it off for a couple of hours on occasion will not result in any irreparable damage, but you might notice increased swelling and puffiness afterwards. It is worth noting that repeatedly removing your compression garment and putting it back on can increase the risk of seroma.4 If you are in doubt about how and when you can take it off, simply ask your surgeon.

How do I know if my compression garment is too tight?

Sometimes patients think that the garment should be as tight as possible. But that is not true. The goal is to support your body without putting excess pressure on the area that is healing.

Light pressure is good. However, you do not want it to be so tight that your limbs are falling asleep! Circulation is important to recovery. Ideally, it should fit snugly and comfortably. A good rule of thumb is that you should just be able to slide your hand under it without strain.

Wearing a binder or compression garment too tight can also cause it to bunch up. The garment should lay smooth and flat across your skin. Doing so will prevent with problems healing, such as undesirable fluid collection.

If you are not sure if your compression garment is too tight or loose, speak to your surgeon. They may suggest adjusting the tightness. Wearing a compression garment too tight can cause more harm than good. After liposuction, excessive pressure can lead to skin hyper pigmentation, waviness or surface irregularities.4

My doctor said I don’t need to wear a compression garment after my tummy tuck. Is that okay?

Not every surgeon utilizes post-surgery garments. Some doctors feel that the faster recovery outweighs the discomfort some patients experience from wearing them. Others simply do not believe compression has as many benefits as research suggests for various reasons.

After years of performing tummy tuck surgeries and lipo, Dr. Beldholm has observed that most patients benefit greatly from wearing compression garments. Doing so indeed appears to result in a faster, more successful recovery for patients who wear one versus those that do not. Choosing comfortable, high-quality garments can reduce or eliminate most of the discomfort that results from wearing low-quality garments.

It is up to your surgeon whether or not to use compression garments after body contouring. You should always follow the advice of your doctor. Remember, you chose him or her for a reason, so it makes sense to trust their judgment.

How can I hide my post-op garments during the day?

In the early stages of recovery, you will be taking it easy at home. However, hiding the garment may be necessary when you return to work or have to attend an event. Tummy tuck girdles and binders are relatively easy to hide if you avoid tight clothes. However, compression garments have hooks and zippers to contend with. These can be hidden easily with the right clothing.

If you are wondering how to hide a compression garment under clothes, here are a few tips:

  • Accessorize with outerwear: Vests and kimonos are a great way to hide compression garments no matter the season. In spring and summer, look for lightweight fabrics and gauzy materials. In fall and winter, choose vests or jackets made from heavier or knitted materials.
  • Layer your clothing: An extra layer of fabric can go a long way in concealing a compression garment, especially if it has zippers and hooks. These can look bumpy under clothes. Adding a breathable camisole tank top can help, for example.
  • Opt for thicker fabrics: Along those same lines, denser materials such as knits or thick-knit cotton can help hide the garment.
  • Choose nude compression garments: Garments come in various nude shades. If you are wearing light-coloured tops, the colour of the garment underneath matters. The closer the garment is to your natural skin tone, the better. If you are very pale, choose a light-coloured garment. Dark or tanned skin may go for taupe, tan or chocolate brown compression garments. If you are Asian, a garment that is more tan or has slight yellow undertone may work better. Of course, every patient has a unique skin tone, but you get the idea.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes: While you recover, you want to be comfortable. Luckily, office attire is much more relaxed today than ever before. Choose flowing fabrics and garments that won’t chafe your skin. Soft, natural materials will make you feel more comfortable when you have a compression garment on under your clothes. Avoid itchy or tight fabrics.

My compression garment is uncomfortable. What can I do to make it feel better?

A post-surgery garment should support you without causing pain. If the garment is causing a lot of discomfort, you may be wearing one that simply does not fit you correctly or is made poorly. You will probably need to wear the garment for many weeks after surgery, so it pays to invest in quality. Premium materials and proper construction can make a big difference in terms of comfort.

You owe it to yourself to make your recovery as comfortable as possible. No one wants you to experience undue pain. If you feel that your garment is tight or hurts, it is a good idea to discuss it with your surgeon. Adjustments may be in order to loosen it. This can alleviate much of your pain so that you can enjoy the benefits of compression in comfort.

Dr. Beldholm’s recommended timeline for wearing compression garments

Patients who see Dr. Beldholm for body contouring will be able to take advantage of some of the highest-quality compression garments on the market. Dr. Beldholm uses premium lipo-elastic garments. Patients who wear lipo-elastic garments report that they are very comfortable and great to use post surgery. There are many other brands with similar garments, but he has found that these are an excellent choice based on patient feedback and personal experience.

All body contouring and liposuction procedures include two garments in the price. For practicality reasons, this means you can wash one while wearing the other. We take all the guesswork out of buying compression garments by handling all the details for you. You will not need to worry about doing anything yourself. Our patient coordinator will measure you before surgery and order the garments so that they are ready to wear on surgery day.

For larger surgeries such as body lifts, tummy tucks and arm lifts, the garment will be put on while you are still asleep at the end of surgery. You will awake comfortably in your new garment. For breast procedures such as breast augmentation, breast lifts and breast reductions, a surgical bra will be placed on you in the recovery room.

You may remove the garment to shower after the first 24 hours have passed. Dr. Beldholm advises wearing the garment full time for four weeks after an extensive body contouring procedure like a tummy tuck. Afterwards, you will only need to wear it during the daytime for two more weeks. For smaller procedures such as breast augmentation or lift, the garment is worn for just four weeks. Again, you may remove it to shower.

References for compression garments

  1. Agu, Obi, Daryll Baker, and Alexander M. Seifalian. “Effect of Graduated Compression Stockings on Limb Oxygenation and Venous Function during Exercise in Patients with Venous Insufficiency.” Vascular 12, no. 1 (2004): 69-76. doi:10.1258/rsmvasc.12.1.69.
  2. Bush, J. A., N. D. Duncan, L. A. Gotshalk, S. Meth, C. R. Denegar, M. Putukian, W. J. Sebastianelli, and W. J. Kraemer. “Influence Of Compression On Symptoms Of Soft Tissue Injury Following Maximal Eccentric Exercise.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 30, no. Supplement (1998): 286. doi:10.1097/00005768-199805001-01627.
  3. “Causes of Keloid Scars.” Verywell Health. Accessed February 4, 2019.
  4. Dixit, Varunv, and Milinds Wagh. “Unfavourable Outcomes of Liposuction and Their Management.” Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery 46, no. 2 (2013). doi:10.4103/0970-0358.118617.
  5. Duffield, Rob, Johann Edge, Robert Merrells, Emma Hawke, Matt Barnes, David Simcock, and Nicholas Gill. “The Effects of Compression Garments on Intermittent Exercise Performance and Recovery on Consecutive Days.” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 3, no. 4 (2008): 454-68. doi:10.1123/ijspp.3.4.454.
  6. Lothrop, Oliver. “ An Operation for Correcting the Aquiline Nasal Deformity. The use of a New Instrument. Report of Case.” The Boston medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 170, o. 22, 1914, p.836.
  7. Miller, Anya. “Impact of Seamless Compression Garments on Limb Functionality, Comfort and Quality of Life.” British Journal of Community Nursing 22, no. Sup10 (2017). doi:10.12968/bjcn.2017.22.sup10.s26.
  8. Wolfram, Dolores, Alexandar Tzankov, Petra Pülzl, and Hildegunde Piza-Katzer. “Hypertrophic Scars and Keloids—A Review of Their Pathophysiology, Risk Factors, and Therapeutic Management.” Dermatologic Surgery 35, no. 2 (2009): 171-81. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2008.34406.x.
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