By Sacha Obaid
The tummy tuck procedure, also known as abdominoplasty, was originally developed over 100 years ago. Although this may seem like a long time, the technique is actually relatively new considering that plastic surgery has been practiced for thousands of years, spreading from the ancient cultures of India through the Middle East and Egypt to the empires of Greece and Rome.
Being a somewhat novel surgical technique, abdominoplasty has undergone a number of changes over the past century. This process of improvement and refinement continues today as surgeons strive to produce the best possible results for their patients. Read on to learn some tummy tuck facts: the origins and development of the tummy tuck and how it became the hugely popular procedure it is today.
Like many plastic surgery techniques, abdominoplasty was originally developed for medical purposes. Surgeons treating umbilical hernias (protrusion of the belly button) sometimes encountered patients where the protruding umbilicus was associated with an excess of abdominal skin and fat. In the first “dermolipectomies” during the 1890’s, French surgeons removed patients’ excess skin to improve access to the herniated tissue and found the procedure also led to a rapid and immediate improvement in their body contour.
The procedure spread quickly to the United States, where the first tummy tuck was performed in Maryland in 1899. It did not take long for both patients and doctors to recognize the aesthetic benefits of this procedure, leading to rapid improvements in abdominoplasty as a purely cosmetic surgery.
One major cosmetic issue with the earliest approaches is that the belly button was removed, leaving behind an unnatural looking abdomen. French and German surgeons separately developed solutions for this problem in 1905 and 1909, respectively, using alternative incision locations to avoid damaging the outward appearance of the belly button. Later advances in the 1920s managed to preserve the internal structures of the umbilicus as well.
War Brings Rapid Advancements
While the overall appearance of the abdomen could be improved, the procedures’ cosmetic results were still less than ideal. Scarring was a significant issue, and it was difficult to preserve the results, as the optimal incision sites and suture styles had not yet been determined. The huge increase in the need for reconstructive surgery of the abdomen during the World Wars, however, brought rapid improvements in the kinds of techniques used in abdominoplasty. This created a wealth of medical knowledge that improved results and paved the way for the procedure’s rapid growth in popularity.
From the perspective of cosmetic surgeons, the most important advances in abdominoplasty have occurred in the last 30-40 years. During this period, suturing techniques have improved dramatically. Surgeons working throughout the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, identified approaches that both minimized the appearance of the scars and allowed significant improvements to body contour. Later, in 1988, the decision to integrate liposuction into the procedure dramatically increased the ability of surgeons to customize abdominoplasty to different body types. Most recently, in the mid-1990’s, an approach for suturing the abdomen was discovered that drastically reduced distortion of the tissues, improved healing time, and maximized contouring results. The development of these techniques have turned the tummy tuck into the safe and effective procedure it is today.