Aiding Your Journey to a Smooth Tummy Tuck Recovery

Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon Serving Baltimore, Columbia, Owings Mills, Towson, Nearby Maryland & Lower Pennsylvania

Posted: February 14, 2024
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Aiding Your Journey to a Smooth Tummy Tuck Recovery



Abdominoplasty, more commonly known as tummy tuck, is a popular procedure involving the removal of fat and excess skin from the abdominal area as well as the tightening of the abdominal muscles to reveal a slimmer figure.  There are many factors that will influence the speed and effectiveness of your recovery such as post-op activity levels, immune response, smoking habits, and your natural ability to heal. Its very important to follow all of the post-operative instructions given by your plastic surgeon to promote proper healing and reduce your risk of complications after surgery.


Preparing for Your Surgery

Before your tummy tuck procedure, its important that you set aside ample time after surgery to allow yourself time to heal.  This will mean taking off work for approximately 1-2 weeks and making arrangements to have someone spend time with you at home during your first few days of healing to help with household chores and activities.  In the weeks leading up to surgery make certain to complete all pre-surgical testing and medical clearances and fill your postoperative prescriptions.


Your Recovery Week by Week

Week 1:

The first week of recovery is usually the most uncomfortable period of the recovery process.  You can expect your abdomen to be swollen, bruised and sore.  Drains will be left in your abdomen for a few days after surgery that you will receive instructions on caring for at home.  Ice packs can be used to help reduce swelling and you will be prescribed pain medication, nausea medication and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.  When you are discharged home from surgery, your abdomen will be bandaged and you will be instructed to wear a compression garment like an abdominal binder to help reduce swelling and aid in healing.  You will receive instructions on how to change your bandages and keep your incision clean.

For the first 7-10 days, its important to relax and allow your body to heal.  You will be able to shower in 48 hours with a mild antibacterial soap.  It is recommended that you walk at least a few minutes every hour to keep your circulation flowing but you won’t be able to do any vigorous activity or housework for the first 4-6 weeks.

Week 2:

By the second week of recovery, you will notice that your pain has subsided and that any bruising has started to fade.  At this point you will most likely have had your stitches removed.  You should be continuing to follow your post-operative instructions regarding caring for your incisions and wearing your compression garments.  Light walks are encouraged at this stage and you may feel well enough to return to work after 10-14 days.

Week 3 and Beyond:

By the third and fourth week of recovery, you should almost feel back to normal.  You can begin engaging in light exercise but avoid strenuous activities such as weight lifting and core workouts as they can put strain on your abdomen.   Pain, swelling, and bruising will be gone and you may no longer be required to wear your compression garment.  By week 6 your incision should be fully healed and strong and you should be able to return to full exercise and activity levels.


Tummy Tuck Recovery Diet

The foods that you eat can significantly influence your body’s ability to heal and regain strength after tummy tuck surgery.  Immediately after surgery you’ll want to begin your recovery with soft, easily digestible foods like clear broths, soups, and yogurts then gradually introduce more solids foods as tolerated.  To promote tissue repair, your body will need ample protein so prioritize foods like poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes.  Anti-oxidants such as berries, fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids contribute to a smoother healing process by minimizing post-op inflammation.  Proper hydration is also fundamental for cellular repair and waste removal.  Drinking plenty of water and incorporating foods like watermelon, cucumbers and citrus foods will help to maintain proper blood flow and support your recovery.  You will want to avoid gas-producing foods and drinks like carbonated beverages. To promote regularity in bowel movements, consume high-fiber foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies.


Emotional Aspects of Tummy Tuck Recovery

Its normal to go through a period of emotional adjustment during abdominoplasty recovery.  This is a major surgery which places a significant amount of stress on your body and changes how it looks.  Dealing with physical discomfort on top of a new body that initially looks worse due to bruising and swelling can be difficult to cope with.  Remember that its normal to feel anxious or depressed especially during the first week or so.  You may wonder what you did to your body and feel ugly or like your tummy tuck recovery will never end.  You may find that you're becoming irritable or impatient with the family and friends trying to help you during this recovery.  If you find yourself suffering from severe or ongoing depression you should seek professional help.  Otherwise, be patient with yourself as your emotions may take a little while to normalize.  Once your body starts to look and feel better, you will probably be glad that you went ahead with the surgery.  You may feel more confident and satisfied with the beautiful new contours of your body.


Potential Complications

  • Infection- In order to remove the extra skin and fat and tighten the abdominal muscles, the surgeon makes an incision across the lower abdomen.  Any time an incision or opening in the skin is made, there is risk for infection.  After tummy tuck, redness, swelling, warmth, pain or discharge from the incision site can be an indication of infection.  Fever and chills may also be present.  Its crucial to adhere to the recommended post-operative care instructions to help lower the risk of infection after tummy tuck.  This includes keeping your incision site clean and dry, taking your prescribed antibiotics, and reporting any possible signs and symptoms of infection as soon as possible.
  • Seroma- A seroma is an accumulation of clear fluid under the skin in the abdominal region where the surgery was done.  When removing the extra skin and fat, the surgeon makes a space between the abdominal muscles and skin.   After surgery, the body begins to produce fluid in this space which in some cases, does not get reabsorbed and instead builds up beneath the skin causing a seroma to form.  Signs of a seroma include swelling, pain, and an apparent lump or protrusion in the abdomen.  Seromas are often treated by using a needle or catheter to drain the fluid. In some cases, this may need to be performed more than once.  Compression garments are often used as well to aid in prevention.
  • Blood clots- Blood clots in the deep veins of the legs known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT can happen after periods of immobilization including surgery or even plane rides.  Smoking, increased age and hormonal birth control also contribute to increased risk forDVT.  If a blood clot forms, it can travel to the lungs creating a potentially life-threatening condition known as PE or pulmonary embolism.  Fortunately, the risk of DVT and PE are relatively small. Your surgeon will assess your risk preoperatively.  Compression stockings will be worn and walking encouraged after surgery.   In some cases, a short-term blood thinner may be prescribed after surgery for those with elevated risk.
  • Wound Healing Issues- Wound healing issues can occur with any surgery.  It often shows up as a small area of the incision which heals more slowly than the rest.  More severe wound healing issues can occur when a portion of the abdominal skin lacks adequate blood supply after surgery and dies.  This is a condition referred to as necrosis and is more common in patients predisposed to healing problems such as diabetics or smokers.


Your Tummy Tuck Scar

To remove excess skin and fat and tighten the abdominal muscles, an incision is made across the lower abdomen.  The size of the incision will vary depending on the type of abdominoplasty.  Your age, skin condition, and surgical technique can all affect the size and visibility of scarring after tummy tuck but every precaution is taken to ensure its concealed by clothing.   Initially your incision site will appear red or pinkish and elevated but as time goes on the scar will eventually become flatter and lighter in color.  It may take up to 12-18 months for the scar to fully manifest but its critical to carefully adhere to your surgeon’s post-operative recommendations in order to encourage optimal healing.  This may entail minimizing sun exposure, keeping the incision site clean and dry and using scar treatments like topical silicone sheeting or creams.


Long Term Care and Maintenance

A tummy tuck can be life-changing for patients unhappy with their abdominal appearance, significantly improving body contour and self-esteem.  It is vital to approach the procedure with realistic expectations and an understanding of its long-term maintenance.  The best way to maintain your new silhouette is through a healthy lifestyle.  This includes:

  • Eating a healthy diet rich in protein, fruits and vegetables
  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Engaging in an exercise regimen
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Proper scar care
  • Minimizing sun exposure