Tummy tuck. We’ve all heard of them and know a friend or celebrity who has had one, but what does this classic plastic surgery procedure actually entail? Let’s run through some quick basics. A tummy tuck surgery, or abdominoplasty, is a surgical procedure performed by a board certified plastic surgeon to enhance the abdominal area by removing excess skin and excess fat and, in a more secondary way, altering abdominal muscles.
Often, a tummy tuck is combined with other procedures like liposuction, an umbilicoplasty (read: belly button surgery), a thigh lift, or breast augmentation for further body contouring. A mini tummy tuck is a less invasive and less extensive version of a full tummy tuck. Recovery times from a mini tummy tuck are generally one to two weeks shorter than the timelines we will provide on this page.
What to Expect During Tummy Tuck Recovery
So, what’s it actually like to create your dream abdominal aesthetic? All candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this plastic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and how your body naturally heals, two to three weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be up for your usual activities.
Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia, if that is a component of your procedure. Many people feel nausea, drowsiness, and slightly disoriented in the hours following anesthesia. These side effects typically resolve quickly, as the sedating medications wear off. Even so, it is a part of the immediate post-surgical recovery.
The Ultimate Tummy Tuck Recovery Timeline
Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of tummy tuck recovery. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to possibly minimize the intensity of your post-op experience and then we’ll look at what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, and months.
It should also be noted that your plastic surgeon should provide comprehensive pre- and post-op instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical team. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.
Day 2 to Day 7
Week 3 to Week 12
6 months to 1 Year
Tips to Improve Your Tummy Tuck Recovery
Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with a tummy tuck, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your healing journey as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Like we mentioned, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are definitely some universal truths that augment healing.
1. Be Mindful & Be Patient
We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit if you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.
2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated
This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your entire being will thank you for it.
Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off before and after a major surgery.
3. Compress & Ice
Cold compresses and your compression garments will lessen blood flow to the abdomen and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your surgical sites. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow.
4. Moderate Your Activities
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, three weeks after your tummy tuck is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the months following a major surgery.
Other activities to avoid or limit: picking up small children or pets, coughing, deep abdominal breathing exercises, and sleeping on your stomach.
Tummy Tuck Side Effects & Complications
Now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a tummy tuck procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every abdominoplasty patient should expect at least one to two weeks of bruising and at least four to six weeks of noticeable swelling. Abdominal pain and discomfort are also common for the first few days or weeks, but can be significantly mitigated with medications and icing.
While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the abdominal wall tissues are a possible complication of a tummy tuck and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, blood clots, intractable pain, asymmetry, and scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.