How to Regain Sensation After Breast Reduction?

Breast reduction surgery, also known as reduction mammaplasty, can provide enormous relief for women suffering from overly large, heavy breasts. By removing excess breast tissue and skin, this procedure can eliminate pain in the neck, back, and shoulders while also improving breast shape and nipple positioning.

However, one potential side effect of breast reduction is a temporary or permanent loss of nipple sensation and sensitivity. This occurs because the surgery involves severing some nerves that provide feeling to the breast and nipple area. For many women, the loss of sensation is a major concern when considering breast reduction.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help regain nipple and breast sensation after surgery. While it’s impossible to guarantee that feeling will fully return, being proactive gives you the best chance of recovering sensitivity over time.

How Long Does It Take Sensation to Return After Breast Reduction?

The timeframe for regaining sensation varies significantly between patients. Some women notice their breast and nipple sensation start to return within just a few weeks post-operation. For others, it can take 6 months or longer for nerve regeneration to occur.

According to a study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 71% of women recovered nipple sensation by 6 months after breast reduction surgery. By one year, sensation had returned for 76% of patients.

The wide range of recovery times is normal since healing depends on factors like:

  • The surgical technique used
  • The amount of breast tissue removed
  • Genetic and individual differences in nerve regeneration

While you may be eager to get feeling back soon after surgery, it’s important to be patient. Most plastic surgeons advise waiting at least 6 to 12 months before worrying about loss of sensation.

What Causes Loss of Sensation After Breast Reduction?

Breast reduction requires the surgeon to cut through breast tissue, fat, and skin to remove excess volume. In doing so, some nerves supplying the nipple-areola complex end up being severed. Other nerves may remain intact but become stretched or damaged during the procedure.

The main sensory nerves affected include:

  • Lateral branch of the fourth intercostal nerve: Provides sensation to upper, outer breast region
  • Lateral cutaneous branches of intercostal nerves 3-6: Supplies sensation to nipple-areola complex and surrounding breast skin
  • Third intercostal perforating branches: Sensory nerves passing through breast tissue

When these nerves are disturbed, the transmission of touch, temperature, pain, and other sensations from the breast to the brain gets disrupted. This leads to the numbness or loss of sensitivity many patients experience after surgery.

Over time, the severed nerve endings may regenerate and reconnect. But breast reduction surgery can make it difficult for proper nerve regrowth to occur. Damage to the tiny blood vessels nourishing the nerves also hampers the healing process.

How to Promote Nerve Regeneration After Breast Reduction

While you can’t rush the return of nipple sensation, certain techniques may help speed your recovery:

Gentle Massage

Massaging your breasts can promote nerve regeneration by stimulating the growth of new axons. These wire-like extensions allow nerve signals to bridge across damaged areas.

  • Start gentle massage about 2-3 weeks after surgery once initial swelling goes down. Always check with your plastic surgeon first.
  • Use a soft, circular motion around the breasts and nipples. Avoid direct pressure on incisions while they are healing.
  • Aim for 5-10 minutes of massage, 1-2 times per day. You may use a lubricant to avoid friction on scars.
  • Consistency is key – aim to make massage a regular part of your routine.

Healthy Diet

Eating a diet rich in nutrients that support nerve health and function may aid recovery. Focus on foods containing:

  • Protein – Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils
  • Antioxidants – Fruits, vegetables
  • Vitamins B1, B5, B6, B12 – Meat, starchy vegetables, dairy
  • Omega-3s – Nuts, seeds, fatty fish
  • Minerals like iron, magnesium, selenium – Leafy greens, nuts, meat

Foods high in processed sugar and unhealthy fats can contribute to inflammation and slow healing.

Cold Therapy

  • Applying something cold, like an ice pack or chilled gel packs, may help reduce swelling around damaged nerves.
  • Use for 10-15 minutes a few times per day. Make sure to wrap the ice to avoid direct skin contact.
  • Cold therapy may be most useful in the first few weeks after surgery when inflammation is higher.

Avoid Smoking

Refrain from smoking after breast reduction surgery. Smoking restricts blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients needed for nerve regeneration.

Vitamins for Nerve Health

Certain vitamin supplements may support nerve recovery, such as:

  • Vitamin B12: Supports healthy nerve function.
  • Alpha lipoic acid: Powerful antioxidant.
  • Acetyl L-carnitine: Boosts nerve regeneration.
  • Vitamin C: Helps repair damaged nerves.

Check with your doctor before starting new supplements.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to promote nerve regrowth, including:

  • Nerve growth factor drugs: Developed to treat neuropathy. Still being researched.
  • Thymosin beta-4: Naturally occurring protein showing promise in animal studies. Not commonly used yet in humans.

Medical Procedures

More involved treatments that may help in cases of severe, chronic loss of sensation include:

  • Nerve grafting: Surgically attaching a nerve from another part of the body to the affected sensory nerves in the breast.
  • Fat grafting: Transferring fat cells containing regenerative components to help stimulate nerve regrowth.

These interventions would only be considered after at least 6-12 months if sensation shows little sign of improving.

When to Seek Evaluation for Loss of Sensation After Breast Reduction

While it’s normal for nipple numbness to persist for many months, see your plastic surgeon promptly if you experience:

  • Loss of sensation in areas beyond just the breasts/nipples
  • Odd sensations like burning, itching or “pins and needles”
  • No improvement in sensation at all after 12 months
  • Asymmetric sensation between breasts
  • Painful sensitivity

These may be signs of nerve damage requiring medical intervention to aid healing. Early treatment provides your best chance at restoring nipple feeling.

Will Sensation Ever Fully Return After Breast Reduction?

It is possible for nipple sensation to return close to normal levels, but some permanent loss is likely following breast reduction surgery.

In a study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, only 58% of women reported a return to normal sensitivity after the procedure.

For many patients, sensation is regained but diminished compared to pre-surgery levels. However, the loss of feeling is rarely severe enough to impact sexual response or nipple function.

Coping With Loss of Sensation After Breast Reduction Surgery

While you go through the process of recovery, here are some tips to help you cope with reduced nipple sensation:

  • Be patient – regeneration takes significant time.
  • Focus on your improved comfort and confidence in your new breast shape.
  • Use breast massage and stimulation to keep encouraging nerve regrowth.
  • Try silicone gel sheeting or bio-oil to soften scars around the areola.
  • If sensation loss is severe, talk to your surgeon about possible medical interventions.
  • Speak with a therapist if emotional distress over loss of sensation becomes overwhelming.

Regaining Sensation After Breast Reduction: The Bottom Line

Mild to moderate loss of nipple feeling is common after breast reduction surgery. With patience and proactive techniques like massage, most women experience gradual return of sensation over the course of 6 months to 1 year.

While some permanent damage is likely, the majority of patients report satisfactory nipple sensitivity and function after recovery. Working closely with your plastic surgeon and following post-op guidance will give you the best results in terms of sensation and aesthetics


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