When I consult with patients considering a tummy tuck at our Richmond, VA, plastic surgery practice, their excitement about transforming their bodies is tempered by reservations about the recovery process. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can make that process much easier.
Many patients, especially those who are younger and healthier, underestimate the toll a tummy tuck takes on the body and the amount of time needed for recovery. That’s why I’ve created this recovery guide to supplement the detailed post-operative instructions we provide abdominoplasty patients. It provides a timeline describing what occurs through the first several months after surgery and explains the physical limitations you should anticipate on a week-by-week basis.
What Is a Tummy Tuck?
Tummy tuck surgery is a popular plastic surgery procedure for men and women, especially those who have lost significant weight or have been pregnant. It removes excess skin and tightens abdominal muscles, creating a flatter stomach and restoring confidence. I begin the procedure by making a curved, horizontal incision low on the abdomen and then lift the skin and repair the underlying muscles. A tummy tuck is often combined with liposuction to remove pockets of fat. The procedure also includes repositioning the bellybutton in a way that looks natural. After removing excess skin, I suture the incision.
Tummy Tuck Recovery Timeline
Even though the time it takes each patient to heal is unique, some general recovery guidelines can help you anticipate what to expect during this process.
Returning Home After Surgery
You’ll need someone to drive you home and remain with you during the first couple of nights after surgery. We’ll provide instructions about how to care for incisions and surgical drains. The drains prevent fluid from accumulating between the skin and muscle and are typically removed about a week after surgery.
Even though the first couple of days after surgery are typically the most uncomfortable, it will be at least 10 to 14 days before you’ll feel something close to normal. Plan on spending the first 2 weeks resting, sleeping, and moving around a bit. Swelling and bruising are common side effects, and the prescription pain medication often makes patients constipated. You’ll still be slightly bent over when walking; this position reduces tension on the incisions.
Your first post-op appointment usually occurs within 3 days of the surgery. I also remove surgical drains about a week after surgery, but you can shower before that. Avoid taking a bath or immersing yourself in water for at least 2 weeks.
It’s still important to always wear the special compression garment (except in the shower). This Spanx®-type garment reduces swelling, relieves tension on the incisions, and helps create attractive results. You should wear it 24/7 for at least 3 weeks. Many patients stop taking pain medication by the second week. You can drive if you’re not taking these meds. Patients often take 2 weeks off from work if they have jobs that don’t require lifting or strenuous physical activity.
Weeks 3 to 6
After 2 weeks, most patients feel comfortable running errands or going out for a meal but should still avoid any significant cardiovascular exercise for about a month after the procedure. You can gradually resume light cardio work, such as walking on a treadmill or slow cycling on a stationary bike, starting about 3 weeks post-op. Once you’re no longer required to wear the compression garment—about 4 weeks after surgery—ease back into more vigorous exercising while paying close attention to how your body feels. Resist the urge to push yourself so that you don’t injure yourself or setback your recovery. You can get more detailed information about working out after a tummy tuck in this earlier blog post.
Tummy Tuck Recovery Tips
Use these tips to ensure your recovery goes as smoothly as possible:
Prepare a “recovery nest”: Create a comfortable space where everything you’ll want—electronic devices, TV remote, books, medicine, pillows, water bottle—are within arm’s reach. You’ll be spending most of the first week or 2 in this spot.
Sleep in an elevated position: A recliner is ideal for keeping your torso and head slightly elevated when you sleep. If you don’t have a recliner, prop yourself up with several pillows and put pillows under your legs to keep the knees bent.
Stock some pre-cooked meals: You’ll want to eat nutritionally rich foods during your recovery, and having some homemade dinners in the fridge makes that easier. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, which helps with healing.
Don’t forget to move around: Even though we emphasize getting plenty of rest, taking short walks around your home within a day or 2 of surgery helps reduce the chance of blood clots and enhances the healing process. Increase the duration of the walks each day but not to the point of physical discomfort.
The Results Are Worth It
It’s normal to feel a bit wary about a lengthy recovery following elective surgery such as abdominoplasty. It’s reassuring to know that the vast majority of tummy tuck patients say the results—which you can see in our gallery of before-and-after photos—are worth the discomfort and inconvenience.
You can also listen to one of our patients describe her experience in this video:
If you want to learn more about your tummy tuck options and are looking for a body contouring specialist in the Richmond, VA, area, request a consultation using the online form or call us at (804) 267-6009 to schedule an appointment.