Thread Lift Complications

The thread lift was developed as a cosmetic procedure alternative to improve the face by giving it a more youthful and attractive appearance. Also called the feather lift, the suspension lift and the lunchtime lift, the thread lift is a face lift technique developed to offer patients a speedier alternative to the traditional face lift, which requires at least four hours of surgery, and a recovery time that can last up to a month. While the thread lift is increasingly popular in the world of plastic surgery, it can present complications.

Objectives of a Face Lift

A face lift serves two basic objectives. The first objective is to tighten the facial skin, which will smooth out wrinkles and give an overall younger looking appearance. In the traditional face lift technique, this is done by making surgical incisions around the facial skin tissue, lifting the facial tissue in its entirety, and pulling it tight. The excess skin is cut off in the traditional technique. Before sewing the facial skin back into place, surgically referred to as "suturing," the muscles and tissue beneath the skin are manipulated to achieve the "lifting" objective. Lifting is necessary for acceptable aesthetic results, since the face will look abnormal if the skin is pulled only side to side. The upward lift rounds out the procedure so that the outcome makes visible sense.

The Development of the Thread Lift

The traditional face lift not only requires a hefty amount of time and money, but it can also be a traumatic experience for patients, with high risk and potential complications. Plastic surgery advanced with other face lift techniques, such as the endoscopic technique and the mini face lift, to decrease scarring and recovery time. The thread face lift was developed to trump the other techniques when it comes to surgery time (an hour for the thread lift); cost, which, according to The Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery is $1500 to $4500; scarring, which is little to none; and recovery time, which is less than two days for non-strenuous activities to be performed, and a week to resume normal activities, such as working out. The thread lift also promises more natural looking results than other techniques.

The Procedure

The thread lift is the least invasive face lift technique, according to the Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery, and is performed under local anesthesia. Rather than making the usual face lift incisions around the ears and in the hairline so to lift the facial skin, plastic surgeons make tiny incisions in strategic locations. The thread lift targets only problem areas, rather than altering the entire face. Surgeons use a needle and special surgical threads to lift and suspend the facial tissue. The threads have barbs that lock into place, and supposedly encourage collagen production in those target areas. The face lift is performed with precision, and promises little to no scarring, and the strategic placement of the threads and "lifting" aims to deliver a more natural look.

Side Effects

Side effects of a thread lift are few, especially compared to other face lift techniques. After the procedure, the patient will need assistance with usual activities for one day, and the surgeon may recommend only soft foods for a week. Minimal discomfort can be solved with aspirin. Pain can be managed with oral medications such as acetaminophen. The treated area may be bruised and swollen, which will subside within one week or less. The areas may also experience numbness. These side effects can be treated with ibuprofin. The surgeon will probably recommend that the head is kept elevated to reduce swelling.

Varying Results

The thread lift is still considered a new face lift procedure, and its long-term results are still unknown. Patient results vary greatly, depending on expectations and the skillfulness of the surgeon. The ultimate results of a thread lift won't be visible for judgment until three weeks after the procedure.

Some patients report no improvement and no difference in their appearance. Sandra B. Goodman, writer for The Washington Post, reported in a 2006 article "A Lift at Lunchtime," that the former president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Robert W. Bernard, described the results of thread lift procedures as "underwhelming."

Complications with the Threads

There have been patient reports of the threads becoming visible in the patient's skin after the thread lift procedure. There are also reports of threads bunching up, and some that break through the skin. In some cases, the barbs of the threads can be felt in the skin and seen.

Infection is another possible complication, though it is infrequent, according to the Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery. Infections can be treated with antibiotics, and on rare occasions, drainage may be required. Infections also pose the risk of scarring the skin tissue.