Updated October 2018
Changes in nipple and/or breast sensation can cause serious stress and worry. You've been going through the pain, swelling, and tightness that marks typical breast augmentation recovery. But to top it off, your nipples and/or breast have taken a hit in the sensation department. They're either too sensitive, not sensitive enough, or not sensitive at all. It has you alarmed.
It’s important to know that like most symptoms you will feel during breast augmentation recovery, changes in sensation shall too pass, usually resolving after several months. The chances of permanent numbness or hypersensitivity in your nipples or breasts after surgery is rare.
If you're experiencing breast and nipple changes after breast augmentation, or if you're wondering "do you lose sensitivity after breast implants?", this is what you need to know about regaining sensation and treatment.
How long does it take to regain normal breast and nipple sensation after breast augmentation?
Normal sensation should return during the standard few months of post-breast augmentation healing, though the time frame between when the breast feels sensation may differ from the nipples. Sensation in the breast skin usually returns in 2 to 3 months, but nipple sensation can take much longer to return.
Talk to your plastic surgeon about any change in nipple or breast sensation that you may have. They can examine you and give a more accurate time-frame for your healing.
But on the short end, you're looking at 3 to 6 months before you regain full sensation to your nipples. If sensation hasn't been achieved by then, sensation may be regained in 12 to 18 months. At this point, full feeling may not be guaranteed; numbness one year after breast augmentation is typically an indicator of permanent changes in sensation.
What do breast and nipple sensation changes feel like after breast augmentation?
You have a nerve that provides sensation to your nipple. It is small and thin, and if not seen during breast augmentation surgery, can be cut or cauterized. It may also be stretched during breast implant pocket creation or as the skin stretches during the recovery process to accommodate the size of your new breast implants.
When the nerve is stretched, sensation is most likely to return. If it is cut or cauterized, the return of sensation will likely depend on the extent of the sever.
Breast augmentation involves incisions to the breast skin and/or the areola directly (periareolar incision), and also calls for creating a pocket of space for the implant in the breast tissue and/or chest muscles. These incisions can damage nearby nerves and affect sensation. Your breasts will also stretch to accommodate the size of your new breast implants. This stretching can also affect the nerves and sensation.
There are different sensations to look out for after breast augmentation. These feelings can indicate that some nerve damage is present, and that your nerves are then regenerating.
Numbness after breast augmentation
Some women may feel numbness after surgery, or reduced sensation. This can be felt in both the breast skin and the areola and nipple.
It’s also possible to develop hypersensitivity—touch feels more intense than normal, or even painful.
Sensations during healing
It’s common to feel itchiness and then burning as your nerves heal and regenerate after surgery.
Sometimes a pins-and-needles or tingling sensation can be felt too during this healing process. These are signs of nerve regeneration after breast augmentation—your body is getting accustomed to your new breast size.
Pain after surgery
Since you just had surgery, some amount of soreness and pain is normal and temporary, but may also be a warning sign of infection or other complication. It’s important to talk to your plastic surgeon about your pain levels so they can treat you appropriately.
Shooting or burning pain going to the nipple can be caused by the stretching of your breast tissue and muscle to accommodate your implants. This will usually go away in 2-3 weeks.
Your surgeon may prescribe you prescription painkillers like Vicodin, or have you take over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol to help with pain and discomfort. Always consult your plastic surgeon before taking medications.
Does massage restore sensation?
Your plastic surgeon may recommend a self-massaging routine during your healing process. This can improve how your breasts and nipples feel, and help with the healing process.
There are different opinions on how this should (or shouldn’t) be done. Your plastic surgeon will recommend the best way to massage your breasts after your surgery.
Some plastic surgeons may also recommend massaging your breasts with different materials, such as a wet washcloth or sponge, to improve your breast and nipple sensation. This can “retrain” the nerves in your breasts to respond to touch signals normally. Again, consult your plastic surgeon about this technique.
Can surgery heal nerve damage in breasts and nipples?
Sensory nerve repair is a new and developing surgery, but plastic surgeons are optimistic about the future of nerve repair for restoring normal sensation in breasts and nipples.
Right now plastic surgeons are researching and developing microsurgery to manually reconnect damaged nerves and restore normal feeling.
This specialized microsurgery is still being developed and studied, so it’s not yet a common fix for this breast augmentation complication.
Nerve reconstruction is a relatively new technique to restore breast sensation for women undergoing breast reconstruction surgery. This type of surgery is more involved than breast augmentation. It uses donor nerves taken from other parts of the body to restore damaged nerves in the breast.
What causes changes in breast and nipple sensitivity?
Any type of surgery can cause nerve damage, which may result in a change in sensation to the area. The nerves in your body translate touch and temperature into electrical signals that your brain understands.
Breast augmentation involves incisions in the skin, and making a pocket of space for the implant in the breast tissue and/or chest muscles. These incisions can damage nearby nerves and affect sensation.
Your breasts will also stretch to accommodate the size of your new implants. This stretching can also affect nerves and sensation.
Does implant size or incision placement affect sensation?
Research is still ongoing about how differences in breast augmentation surgeries affect nerve damage and changes in sensation.
There is debate about whether larger implants increase the risk for nerve damage and sensation change.Larger implants will stretch the breast tissue and skin more than smaller implants.
Some plastic surgeons, based on their medical experience, believe this plays a role in nerve damage and breast and nipple sensation. Some scientific studies show that there isn’t a correlation though.
It’s also unclear how different incision placements, such as at the bottom crease of the breast or around the areola, affect sensation changes after surgery. Areloar or periareolar incisions may increase the risk for sensation loss in the nipple compared to other incision placements.
Here's a video by Dr. Daniel Shapiro about loss of nipple sensation after breast augmentation surgery: