Stephen McCulley, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. MBChb, FCS(SA)Plast, FRCS(plast)

Breast augmentation pain and swelling: what’s normal and how to reduce it

Experiencing pain and swollen breasts after augmentation surgery is normal. Swelling is the body’s way of helping to heal tissue damage and protect the area.

On this page you’ll find out more about:

Swelling after breast augmentation: what’s normal

How much swelling is normal after breast augmentation?

Your breasts will feel tight after surgery and swelling will peak around three to four days later. However, you may experience some swelling for up to three months after surgery and it can take up to six months for the implants to fully settle in place.

You can expect to have more swelling if:

  • you’ve had implants under your chest muscle, as this involves making an incision in the chest muscle, as well as the breast tissue and skin, so there’s more tissue that needs to heal
  • you have large implants—this could mean the breast and muscle tissue has been stretched
  • you smoke—smoking can slow down the healing process
  • you have certain pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes

You can find out more about how to reduce the risks of surgery here.

How long does swelling last after breast augmentation surgery?

Most patients find that any swelling will have gone down by about three weeks after surgery. However, it’s normal to experience some swelling for up to three months. You can find out more about what to expect in recovery here.

Is it normal to have uneven swelling after breast augmentation surgery?

Some people experience uneven swelling in the chest after augmentation surgery and this is completely normal as it’s most likely due to the breasts healing at different rates. This will usually resolve itself within a few weeks.

However, uneven swelling could be a sign of something more serious, such as blood or fluid gathering at the wound in one of the breasts. If you’re concerned or experience significantly more pain or swelling in one side of the chest than the other, speak to your surgeon as soon as possible.

How can I reduce abdominal swelling after breast augmentation surgery?

After your operation, gravity can make the swelling in your breast tissue move down to the abdomen.

You can help reduce swelling in your abdomen by:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • walking around as soon as you feel able to do so
  • stopping or switching pain medication if your bloating is severe—narcotic painkillers can cause constipation, and it’s important you speak to your surgeon before making any changes to your pain medication
  • speaking to your surgeon about taking stool softeners if constipation is causing your stomach to bloat

Abdominal swelling is completely normal and should resolve itself within a few days. However, it’s also normal to experience bloating for a little longer as the effects of medication and lack of movement can slow digestion and cause constipation.

How can I make swelling go down after surgery?

  • Wear a supportive surgical bra as this gently compresses the breasts to reduce swelling
  • Speak to your surgeon about taking arnica supplements as this herb can be applied to the skin to treat swelling and bruising.
  • Being too active can actually aggravate the healing process, so only do gentle exercise for the first few weeks after your operation
  • If the top of your breasts still seems swollen around three months after surgery, this could be the implants themselves. It can take six months or more for implants to fully settle in place.

Find out more about how to care for your breasts after surgery with our aftercare FAQs.

Breast augmentation and pain: what’s normal

Your chest will feel tight and sore after your breast augmentation. Your ribs may also feel sore below your breasts.

Your surgeon will help you manage the initial pain after your operation either by:

  • injecting local anaesthetic into the affected area
  • administering local anaesthetic via a pain pump—this slowly and continuously delivers pain medication to where the incision was made in your breasts

Your surgeon may also prescribe muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as narcotic pain medication.

After two to three days it’s likely you’ll be able to scale down your pain medication to over-the-counter painkillers, which you can take as and when required.

As well as the initial pain from surgery, it’s also common to feel the following in your breasts or nipples:

  • Shooting pains
  • Tingling pains
  • Burning sensations
  • Numbness

These sensations can last for six to 12 months after surgery. If you’re concerned about the type or amount of pain you’re experiencing at any point, speak to your surgeon.

Below is an overview of some of the types of pain you may experience and where and how soon after your operation you might feel it. You may experience this pain in either breast or both breasts.

Type of pain

Where you might feel the pain

When you might feel the pain

Possible cause of the pain

Soreness

  • All over the breasts and chest
  • In the first 1–3 days after surgery
  • Your body recovering from surgery

Shooting pain

  • In the nipples
  • Where the incision was made
  • All over the breasts
  • In the first 1–6 weeks
  • May last for the first 6 months or longer
  • Nerve pain caused by the nerves healing after being stretched

Stabbing pain

  • In the nipples
  • Where the incision was made
  • All over the breasts
  • In the first 1–6 weeks
  • May last for the first 6 months or longer
  • Nerve pain caused by the nerves healing after being stretched

Aching pain

  • In the back or shoulders
  • In the first 1–2 weeks
  • Hunching over to support your new breasts

Itching or burning sensation

  • In the nipples
  • Where the incision was made
  • All over the breasts
  • In the first 3–4 weeks
  • May last for the first 6 months or longer
  • Nerve pain caused by the nerves healing after being stretched

Tingling sensation

  • From the side of the breasts to the nipples
  • In the first 1–6 weeks
  • May last for the first 6 months or longer
  • Nerve pain caused by the nerves healing after being stretched
  • Air in the pocket where the implant was inserted

Not everyone will experience the above pain. If you have any concerns about the type or strength of the pain, or where you’re feeling it, contact your surgeon.

How long does the pain last after breast augmentation?

It’s normal to feel some pain in the first one to two weeks after having breast augmentation surgery. The pain will be most severe in the first few days and should gradually subside.

After six weeks, any pain or unusual sensations should have gone, although it’s fairly common for patients to experience shooting pains up to six months or more after surgery.

Some people also experience nerve pain, which can cause tingling, shooting pains, numbness or itching, particularly where the incision was made.

It can take over a year (or longer) for these sensations to disappear. This is because the nerves are often stretched during and after surgery and can take a long time to return to normal.

Is it normal to have back pain after breast augmentation?

Yes, you may experience pain in other areas of the body, such as the back and shoulders. Back and shoulder pain is most likely because you’ll naturally want to hunch over to support and protect your chest if it’s feeling tender. You should find this pain lessens as your body heals and adapts to your new breasts.

Is it normal to have a sharp pain where the incision was made?

Yes, it’s normal to have pain where the incision was made in one or both breasts, especially in the first few days after surgery. If the pain can’t be controlled with prescribed pain medication or you feel overwhelmed by it, speak to you surgeon immediately.

Is it normal to experience burning pain after a breast augmentation?

Yes, many people experience a burning sensation after having breast augmentation surgery. This happens because the nerves in the breast are stretched during surgery, and after surgery when the breasts are swollen.

The breasts are full of nerve endings so it’s extremely likely that the surgery will affect some of them. The burning sensation occurs when the nerves are regenerating and reconnecting with the area of the breast to which they normally supply feeling.

It can take up to six months or more for these shooting pains to resolve themselves.

How painful is breast augmentation under-the-muscle?

Having implants under the muscle tends to be more painful than over the muscles as your surgeon will need to make an incision in the muscle, as well as the breast tissue, to create the ‘pocket’ that your breast implant will fit inside.

You can expect to feel the most pain in the first one to three days after surgery. Your breasts and chest are likely to feel sore but you may also feel some stabbing or shooting pains. Your surgeon will prescribe you with pain medication to manage this.

You’re likely to experience less intense pain after under-the-muscle breast augmentation if you do the following:

What if I find the pain unbearable?

Your surgeon will help you manage your pain so that you’re comfortable after surgery.

However, severe pain could be a sign of infection.

If you experience any of the following, contact your surgeon immediately:

  • The pain is severe and medication has no effect
  • Your breasts feel engorged or hot to the touch
  • You have a fever

If you’ve recently had breast augmentation surgery and have concerns about how much pain you’re feeling or the amount of swelling in your breasts, speak to your surgeon.

Resources

You can find out more about what to expect in recovery from breast augmentation surgery here.

If you’re considering having breast augmentation surgery, you can find out more about preparing for the operation here.

Browse our Ask Our Specialist Nurse section for more information on aftercare and reducing the risks of surgery.

You can contact Stephen McCulley here.