It’s easy to get excited about a plastic surgery like a tummy tuck. You’ve probably been waiting months or years to find a way to restore a flatter abdomen, perhaps trying a fitness routine to no avail or struggling to feel proud of weight loss efforts that resulted in visibly loose skin. The prospect of finally feeling confident about your stomach and waist may have you daydreaming about the moment when you can reveal your newly contoured body.
But as any plastic surgeon will advise, it’s important not to get impatient. The post-op recovery from a tummy tuck is just as critical to your results as the surgery itself. You’ll need to take plenty of time to rest and heal to make sure you aren’t putting yourself at risk. Your surgeon will explain the recovery process to you and provide you with specific aftercare instructions, but if you’re curious about what the weeks after your surgery might be like, this guide has the details you need to be prepared.
You won’t feel too much pain or discomfort immediately following your surgery since your anesthesia will still be wearing off. In the first few days after you return home, though, you’ll start to feel sore and tender. Don’t be alarmed if the pain seems to worsen a little before it gets better; most clients find that day two or three post-op is where they feel the worst pain, and then things start to improve. The best way to keep yourself comfortable is by following your surgeon’s recommendations – you’ll be using a type of pain medication or pain management device to stay comfortable, but the specifics will depend on your surgery and your provider’s preferences. It’s common for surgeons to try to avoid relying too heavily on narcotics for tummy tuck clients; constipation is a common side effect of prescription painkillers, and this can result in additional abdominal discomfort and strain. If you do use prescription medication, be sure to stay hydrated and eat foods that are high in fiber like fresh vegetables and whole grains. Your surgeon may also recommend an accompanying laxative. After three to five days, most clients can fully manage their pain with regular strength, over-the-counter Tylenol or ibuprofen. After two to three weeks, you should be feeling able to get through most days without medical pain management.
Your abdominal muscles will feel fragile for some time, but you will be able to sit up, walk around and change position without pulling at your sutures or wrecking the surgery, even in the first few days post-op. In fact, you should be moving around following your surgery to keep your blood flowing and prevent other problems like muscle stiffness or a sore back and neck. It’s better to get up twenty times a day for a minute, than once a day for twenty minutes – giving your body regular breaks from a single position prevents blood clots, keeps you feeling more awake and alert and helps manage discomfort.
You’ll be able to resume more intensive movement slowly but surely, as your body and your surgeon permit. Most tummy tuck clients return to sedentary jobs after about two weeks, though it can take six weeks or more before you are cleared for exercise and heavy lifting. Your individual timeline will largely depend on your health prior to your surgery, as well as your particular surgical plan. Some tummy tucks are more intensive than others, and some patients naturally heal more quickly – move at a pace that makes sense for you and don’t rush into activities that feel like they might be putting too much strain on your abdomen.
Post-op swelling is something that consistently surprises tummy tuck patients, even when they think they know what to expect. You will likely feel bloated and puffy for several weeks after surgery, and you will probably feel more bloated and puffy than you anticipate. One of the best ways to combat the swelling and help you appear shapelier in clothing is by wearing a compression garment around your abdomen. Many surgeons require this since compression also promotes blood flow and can help you feel more comfortable by providing extra support for your abdomen. Usually, your surgeon’s office will provide you with a specific garment in your size and in a preferred brand. It’s important to use the recommended or provided garments, or to run personal compression garments by your surgeon before using them – an incorrectly proportioned compression garment can put pressure in places that might cause problems for your healing rather than helping it.
Incisions and Scars
In a traditional tummy tuck, you will have an incision around your belly button and across your lower abdomen from hip to hip. Typically, the horizontal incision is seated low enough on your belly that the resulting scar can be hidden by underwear or bathing suit bottoms. It’s important to take care of your incisions as you heal – things like infection, sun exposure, irritating soaps or injury can result in scars that don’t flatten or blend in with the skin. You should be sure to keep your incisions clean while they heal; use gentle, unscented topical products and keep out of direct sunlight during your recovery. To improve the appearance of scars, you may choose to use an anti-scarring treatment like Mederma or a Vitamin E cream. After about a month post-op, you may also begin lightly massaging your scars to keep them from “sticking” to deeper layers of skin and tissue and causing unwanted puckering. Your surgeon may also have recommendations to keep your scars minimally visible that they have found to work over their years of performing tummy tucks.
Other Recovery Symptoms and Sensations
There are some other unexpected feelings you may have as you begin your recovery. For example, it’s common to feel very emotional as you heal – you might be frustrated that you can’t move around as much as usual, you might be feeling sensitive due to the pain or you simply might be tired and emotionally drained as your body puts all of its energy toward healing. Physically, you might experience:
- “Popping” sensations as one or two sutures let go
- Numbness between the belly button and pubic area
- Bruising, particularly if you chose to have liposuction
- For women, swelling and discomfort around the mons pubis or labia
- Difficulty standing up straight
- Bumps or bulges in the skin around the incisions
There are innumerable small concerns that pop up during recovery, and many of them are different or unique depending on the patient and their surgical plan. The vast majority of these are normal and are not a cause for concern. You should never hesitate to contact your surgeon if you have questions or if you feel like something might be wrong. You can also rest assured that your surgeon will have an extensive recovery guide that you will take home after your procedure, so you will have specific instructions and timelines based on your surgeon’s experiences and techniques. You will also have regularly scheduled follow-up appointments so your surgeon can monitor your healing and make sure you are on track for a successful recovery. Just remember to be patient: give your body as much time as it needs to heal, because you’ll have the rest of your life to enjoy your new, flatter tummy. The wait will be worthwhile once you’re back to normal and feeling confident in your body again.
Dr. Elizabeth Hall-Findlay has been practicing plastic surgery in Banff since 1983. I am fortunate that I have always truly enjoyed my profession,” said Dr. Hall-Findlay. “I love the design element in plastic surgery.” She has had extensive training in both aesthetic (cosmetic) and reconstructive surgery in both Canada and the United States. Dr. Hall-Findlay completed her plastic surgery residency in San Francisco and New York City. She is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (FRCSC) and she is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.