What Is Liposuction?

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that recontours the body by removing unwanted fat deposits from targeted areas. A variety of techniques are available, including tumescent and ultrasound-assisted liposuction, which help patients achieve better results and shorter recovery times. Our plastic surgeon, Dr. Neil J. Zemmel, uses both of these techniques to recontour unwanted fat deposits throughout the body. While liposuction can provide noticeable contouring results, the procedure is not intended for weight loss. 

If you’re considering a body sculpting surgery like liposuction, this page will give you a basic understanding of the procedure. Dr. Zemmel will discuss your unique concerns and recommend an optimal treatment plan for you during your consultation.

What Areas Can Liposuction Treat?

The anatomic areas that can typically be treated with liposuction include:

Am I a Candidate for Liposuction?

Good candidates for liposuction have realistic expectations about what the procedure can do. It’s important to understand that liposuction can enhance your appearance and self-confidence, but it won’t completely change the shape of your body. Before you decide to have surgery, think carefully about your expectations and discuss them with Dr. Zemmel.

Ideal candidates for liposuction are in good overall health, at or near their goal weight, have elastic skin, and are unhappy with isolated pockets of fat. These include a variety of trouble areas that have proven to not be responsive to diet and exercise. Age is not a deciding factor with liposuction, but since older patients tend to have more lax skin, they may not be able to achieve the smooth results that younger patients typically can. However, the skin-tightening abilities of ultrasound-assisted liposuction can benefit these patients most.

Liposuction carries greater risk for individuals with medical problems such as diabetes, significant heart or lung disease, poor blood circulation, or those who have recently had surgery near the area to be contoured. This is why it is important for patients to be in good overall health to qualify for surgery.

Safety is Dr. Zemmel’s number one concern. All patients will undergo a rigorous pre-operative physical exam to determine whether or not they are fit for surgery.

What Does the Liposuction Consultation Entail?

During your initial consultation, Dr. Zemmel will evaluate your overall health and discuss with you at length the areas that concern you most. There are many physical details that make up the shape of your body which can be modified. Dr. Zemmel will evaluate:

Depending on his findings and your goals, Dr. Zemmel will explain the body contouring methods that will fit your unique needs.

Some patients have excess skin that will exceed the capabilities of liposuction and require an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) to achieve optimal results. For example, if you believe you want liposuction in the abdominal area, you may learn that an abdominoplasty or “tummy tuck” may more effectively meet your goals; or that a combination of a tummy tuck and liposuction would be the best choice for you.

People considering liposuction often feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of options and techniques being promoted today. However, Dr. Zemmel can help. In deciding which is the right treatment approach for you, Dr. Zemmel will consider the effectiveness, safety, cost and appropriateness for your needs. This is called surgical judgment, a skill that is developed through years of surgical training and experience.

What Can I Expect During My Liposuction Procedure?

A variety of details regarding your liposuction procedure will depend upon the specifics of your surgical plan. Dr. Zemmel performs all liposuction procedures in the hospital setting to maximize patient safety. Smaller-volume liposuction is usually done on an outpatient basis. However, if a large volume of fat (greater than 4 liters) will be removed, or if liposuction is being performed in conjunction with other procedures, such as a tummy tuck or breast lift, an overnight stay in the hospital or a nursing facility may be required.

Step 1: Local or General Anesthesia

On the day of your liposuction procedure, you may be given sedation with local anesthesia. This is appropriate if only a small amount of fat and a limited number of body sites are involved. If your surgery is combined with additional procedures, a general anesthetic may be necessary. 

Step 2: Tumescent Injections & Ultrasound Energy

Dr. Zemmel performs tumescent and ultrasound-assisted liposuction to help patients achieve optimal results from their procedure. These techniques help prepare the fat for removal via traditional liposuction methods. Dr. Zemmel will begin by performing the tumescent process, injecting a medicated fluid solution to the areas undergoing treatment. This fluid helps to maximize fat removal, reduce blood loss, and improve comfort during and after liposuction. After this solution takes effect, Dr. Zemmel will utilize low energy ultrasound to break up the fat, leaving the surrounding tissue intact. 

Ultrasound-assisted liposuction targets the fat tissue only, leaving nerves, blood vessels, and skin in place. By breaking up only the fat, Dr. Zemmel is able to sculpt areas much more precisely. Treated areas tend to be smoother and blend in with the surrounding areas better than with traditional liposuction. The overlying loosened skin also tends to tighten to a greater extent than with traditional liposuction. This may eliminate the need for a skin removing procedure (tummy tuck, for example) in the future. Ultrasound-assisted liposuction has been shown to improve the ease and effectiveness of liposuction in fibrous areas of the body, such as the upper back and flanks or the enlarged male breast.

Step 3: The Fat Removal Process 

Once the fat has been prepared via tumescent injections and ultrasound energy, small incisions (about 2mm to 4mm long) will be placed strategically around the treatment area. A narrow surgical tool known as a cannula is then inserted through these tiny incisions to suction out the excess fat cells. The cannulas are passed back and forth and the fatty tissue is removed. Each area is meticulously checked for symmetry and smoothness. Dr. Zemmel will take great care in making sure all areas blend in together.

As the fat is removed, fluid is also lost, so it’s crucial that this fluid be replaced during the procedure to prevent dehydration. For this reason, Dr. Zemmel and the anesthetist will carefully monitor you throughout and immediately after surgery.

How Long Does Liposuction Take?

In general, liposuction takes about 1 to 3 hours, but this will vary based on the size of the target area, amount of fat removed, type of anesthesia, and technique being employed. 

What Risks Are Associated with Liposuction?

Liposuction is considered a safe procedure when performed by a qualified surgeon. Dr. Zemmel selects patients very carefully to ensure they have a low risk of complications. You will undergo a thorough pre-operative evaluation to determine if you are healthy enough for the procedure. Dr. Zemmel cannot stress enough that safety is his primary concern.

Although complications from liposuction are rare, you will be informed of the possible risks ahead of time to help you know what to expect. The more areas being treated at once, and the larger these areas are, the higher your risk during surgery. Possible side effects from liposuction surgery include infection, poor healing, blood clots, excess loss of fluid, and skin or nerve damage. While these are rare, Dr. Zemmel takes every precaution to optimize your safety during your surgery. He will go over these risks with you beforehand, and if you have any questions or concerns, you are encouraged to voice them at any point during your liposuction journey.

How Long Is the Liposuction Recovery?

After your liposuction procedure, you may need to wear a compression garment for a few weeks to help facilitate the healing process. Dr. Zemmel will prescribe antibiotics, as well, to help prevent infection. Remember that healing is a gradual process. Dr. Zemmel will encourage you to begin walking right after surgery to reduce swelling and to help prevent blood clots from forming in your legs. You should begin to feel better in a couple of days, at which point you can resume your normal daily activities. Most people return to work in 3 to 5 days or even sooner if they are up to it. The small stitches are removed in one week.

Even though the newer liposuction techniques are believed to reduce some post-operative discomforts, you may still experience some pain, burning, swelling, bleeding and temporary numbness. Dr. Zemmel will prescribe pain control medications to increase your comfort during this time. You may still feel stiff and sore for a few days.

Strenuous physical activity (running and weight lifting) should be avoided for about a month as your body continues to heal. Although most of the bruising and swelling usually disappears within 2 weeks, some swelling may remain for 3 months or more. Dr. Zemmel will schedule regular follow-up visits to monitor your progress.

What Will My Liposuction Scars Look Like?

The incisions made for liposuction are typically very small. Dr. Zemmel will always make these incisions in the most inconspicuous areas to help naturally hide post-operative scarring. This involves placing the incisions under underwear lines and in natural creases. Over the course of the first year, these scars should gradually lighten, become softer, and flatten.

When Will I See My Liposuction Results?

You should begin to see your liposuction results soon after surgery, but more noticeable improvement is typically seen after 4 to 6 weeks, at which point most of the post-operative swelling will have faded. As residual swelling continues to fade, you should see your final liposuction results around 3 months. To prolong your new contouring results, Dr. Zemmel recommends following a healthy lifestyle by eating a nutritious diet and regularly exercising. 

How Much Does Liposuction Cost?

Liposuction costs about $5,000-$10,000 in Richmond, VA. This cost will vary based on the unique details of each patient’s treatment plan. In addition to the surgeon’s fee, associated costs like anesthesia, the surgical facility, and post-operative garments and medications may influence your liposuction cost. 

To help you budget for your procedure, our team will provide you with a cost estimate during your consultation based on the details of your custom liposuction surgery. If you would like to take advantage of cosmetic surgery financing, we accept multiple options and can help you get started.