It’s one of the most common questions asked by prospective patients, and understandably so: how much does it really hurt to undergo the hair transplant process?
Seeing as hair transplantation is a long, multi-faceted procedure, there is no quick answer to satisfy. The fact that hair transplants are more highly customized and unique than ever only further complicates the truth of the matter.
However, after thousands of treatments and direct client testimonies, we’ve got a good idea of what the typical patient can expect in terms of discomfort before, during, and after a hair transplant. Let’s explore each aspect of the procedure from the patient’s point of view.
As with any invasive procedure, patients can expect some degree of pain and discomfort when undergoing hair transplantation. But with so many different techniques used in the current hair restoration field, we should isolate three key variables to get a more accurate assessment.
When consulting with your hair restoration surgeon, keep the following factors in mind to gauge your transplant experience from start to finish.
There are currently two main competing hair transplant surgery techniques utilized by leading surgeons and clinics. The first is the more traditional and time-tested follicular unit transplant, commonly known as FUT “strip surgery,” involving the removal of hair-bearing skin from the donor area at the back of the head.
Since local anesthesia is administered prior to FUT extraction, the surgery itself is not particularly painful. Patients report little more than a “pulling, prickling sensation” as the linear incision is made.
Because a sizeable portion of skin is cut from the donor region, patients may experience moderate discomfort during the recovery period from FUT as the linear cut closes and heals with time.
Follicular unit excision, however, is known as a less intrusive surgery with an overall lower level of discomfort during the extraction stage. This is thanks to a small, sharp “punch-hole” mechanism by which individual clusters of hair are excised from the donor region, rather than the horizontal strip of skin taken via FUT.
Advanced FUE instruments allow for the precise extraction of follicular units, with less trauma and inflammation to the surrounding skin. As a result, bouncing back from FUE is generally a faster process with less discomfort following the completion of the procedure.
Yet while FUT and FUE differ in their donor area extraction process, they both share the same incision and implantation process once the follicles are procured and processed. Patients can expect the same sensory experience as small incisions are made to the recipient area, which is numbed once again by local anesthetics.
To summarize, FUT may be slightly more uncomfortable than FUE in terms of extraction and donor area recovery, but implantation and recipient area recovery are the same across the board.
Another key consideration is the size, scope, and duration of the procedure, regardless of the surgical process you choose. However, FUT methods are generally used for higher yields of donor hair, while FUE is better suited for lower yields and smaller, incremental treatments over time.
The length and scope of a procedure can vary greatly, regardless of the mechanisms and instruments used. Surgery duration depends on the skill and technique of the surgeon, staffing policies at the clinic, limitations of tech and medicine, and other case-by-case factors.
Generally speaking, a longer procedure is more demanding on the body and mind, requiring the patient to remain in a set position and sometimes necessitating more anesthetics. For longer procedures, clinics may take breaks in between sessions in order to reduce discomfort and ensure patient satisfaction.
Even the longest FUT sessions can extend up to six hours, while the average FUE procedure takes only a few hours to complete.
Finally, we need to consider the unique experience of each patient and the fact that no two people have the same tolerance to pain or discomfort. Age, background, and gender seem to have no bearing on how much pain the client experiences, even with all other factors equal.
This is the “wild card” factor that is difficult to quantify with any objective measures, requiring a minor “leap of faith” on the part of the patient as they choose to undergo a procedure of any kind.
In other words, there’s no way to tell for certain how any individual patient will respond to the experience of a hair transplant. The best way to navigate the experience is with professional guidance from a trusted surgeon and clinic and a dash of courage.
Each stage of the hair transplant process comes with different expectations and levels of discomfort. Here’s a brief walkthrough of the procedure from beginning to end and what patients can expect regarding pain tolerance.
The leadup to a hair transplant should be smooth and pain-free, involving a direct meeting with your surgeon to outline goals and possibilities. This is when you will confirm scheduling, payment, and other logistics that ensure a safe and effective surgery.
This is also where your surgeon may recommend less invasive treatment options, depending on how you feel about the surgery and your degree of hair loss.
On the day of the surgery, patients will enter the clinic and review the procedure plan one last time before entering the operating room. Clinics typically offer a comfortable reclined position for the patient, allowing them to rest and close their eyes or watch TV.
Administering anesthetics may be psychologically uncomfortable for patients with an aversion to needles, but the process is brief and involves minimal pain. A short series of shots to the donor area will ensure that the rest of the surgery goes smoothly without discomfort.
Depending on the type of procedure, the donor hair extraction process will differ slightly in terms of physical sensations. FUT’s strip extraction involves a prolonged pulling sensation on the donor area, while FUE’s “punch” format feels like a short series of pricks or tingles.
The implantation process that follows may also involve minor discomfort as tiny incisions are made for hairs to successfully take root and grow. Again, the sensation is minimally painful with proper anesthetic treatment.
In the hours immediately following surgery, patients may start to feel numbness fade away, replaced with a dull ache or the occasional stinging. This is normal, and is typically a good sign that sensations in the skin have not been altered.
Although discomfort tends to peak around the 24-hour mark both in the donor and recipient areas, patients are encouraged to take pain medicine if they are cleared. Since patients will be seated upright with minimal strain or movement, their one focus is to relax and get through this first stretch of recovery with no problems.
After a week or so of recovery, most aching and minor pain will subside, though some itching and irritation may persist. This is a good sign, indicating that the body is healing naturally with scabs and other mechanisms.
Still, it’s important for patients to avoid the urge to itch or aggravate these areas as they heal and stay within the boundaries of the recommended post-op care instructions as provided by the surgeon and clinic.
Most discomfort is hardly noticeable by the two-week mark — after which, it’s a matter of waiting and recuperating with the ongoing support and supervision of the clinic.
When properly planned and performed, a hair transplant of any kind should not be painful for the everyday patient. Apart from the first days of recovery, discomfort should be kept to a minimum as well, especially with proper medicines and protocols.
Of course, surgeon and clinic techniques and policies make a huge difference in the overall experience and comfort level from the patient’s standpoint.
Connect with trusted professionals like Jae Pak, MD, to get the best of all worlds: surgical technique, high-end technology, and a focus on client comfort and care.
Preparing for Hair Transplant Surgery | Plastic Surgery
Postoperative Pain in Hair Restoration Surgery | NIH
Controlled Breathing and Pain Tolerance in Hair Transplant | ISHRS Forum
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