Recovery Series: Your Timeline for a Tummy Tuck Recovery

Dr. Sacha Obaid, Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon Serving Dallas, Plano, Southlake, and Nearby Fort Worth, Texas

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By Sacha Obaid

The timeline for your recovery from a tummy tuck depends on a few different things, including your physical health and what kind of tummy tuck you have. Most people find they need a few weeks to recover from the procedure. If the tummy tuck involves tightening the abdominal muscles, full healing can take several months.

On the Day of Your Surgery

When you have a tummy tuck, you’ll receive a general anesthetic. When you wake up after the surgery, you’ll feel groggy and maybe a bit confused because of the anesthetic. You’ll also feel sore in the tummy area.

After 24 Hours

At North Texas Plastic Surgery, we’ll see you 24 hours after your procedure, and we’ll continue to see you until your drains are removed.

The First Few Weeks of Tummy Tuck Recovery

You will experience some pain and tenderness in the abdominal area for several days after your surgery. Your surgeon will provide you with a prescription for pain medication to help make you more comfortable during this time. This might take the form of oral medication or an injection that provides pain relief for several days.

Your Reactions

Most people who have tummy tucks are prepared for the physical side of recovery, but one thing that surprises many people is the emotional changes they go through. A tummy tuck changes the body dramatically, and it’s completely natural to have mood swings after making such big changes. It’s good to have a strong support system in place for the first few weeks, so you have people to talk to about what you’re feeling and to rely on for help with whatever you need, from getting the groceries to encouraging you through recovery.

tummy tuck recovery pic

Your Movement and Exercise Routine

Even though you must minimize your physical movement for the first few days, it’s still important to keep up a low level of activity to reduce the risk of blood clots. You won’t be able to do any high-impact exercise for several weeks, but even if you rest in bed for the first day or two, you can do simple calf and thigh exercises to keep your circulation going. Flexing the thigh and calf muscles and doing heal-toe movements can help with this. Make sure these movements don’t put any strain on your stomach muscles.

  • Avoid standing up straight for the first week or so to avoid straining your abdominal muscles. Most people find that their bodies naturally adopt a slightly bent-over position when they walk for the first time after surgery. Over the next few days they’re gradually able to stand up straighter.
  • Your stomach muscles and your incision areas are vulnerable after a tummy tuck, so avoid heavy lifting and straining, as well as high-impact exercise, for several weeks.
  • Wear your compression garment as instructed, even if you have to wear it 24/7. This is important to help reduce swelling and hasten your recovery. Wearing the compression garment also provides vital support and protection to your abdominal area while it’s healing.
  • Once you’re up and starting to exercise again, be cautious about over-exerting yourself. Heavy exercise can increase the swelling around your incisions, so keep a close eye on them, and limit your activity for a few days if you notice any swelling. We typically tell patients that they can return to running three weeks after surgery and return to weight-training six weeks after surgery.
  • If you have a mostly sedentary job with no heavy lifting, you can return to work after a week. If your job is more physical, it may be two or three weeks before you can return.

Your Diet

  • A few diet modifications can make your recovery easier. A low-sodium diet can help reduce swelling, and a high-fiber diet will reduce your need to strain during bowel movements. This ensures you’re not putting stress on your stomach muscles when you go.
  • If you receive any medications, take them as directed. If you have antibiotics, be sure to finish the whole course.

In general, sun exposure can irritate the sensitive skin around your incisions and can even cause skin discoloration. Avoid sun exposure for at least three months to prevent these problems.

In all situations, be sure to follow your plastic surgeon‘s advice so that your tummy tuck recovery is as safe as possible.

Your Week One Follow-Up Visit

Your bandages might be removed, and you’ll have your first opportunity to see your new tummy and waistline. There will still be lots of swelling, but even so it should be easy to see that there’s a big difference in your appearance.

You’ll still need to wear your compression garment after the checkup. In fact, the garment usually has to be worn for several weeks or even months.

One to Two Months After Surgery

Most people find that they still have plenty of swelling—enough to make their clothes feel tight—a month after surgery. At the two-month mark, most of the swelling around your tummy area will be gone, although there will still be a little swelling for up to a year.

The incisions should be completely healed by the two-month stage but will leave behind some long scars that will look prominent for several months. Scars are usually red to purple in color and may be a little raised. The scars may get more puffy over the next couple of months as they continue to heal. You might not like how they look, but they’re a normal part of a wound healing. They’ll become flatter and fade over time, and since they’re placed beneath your underwear line, they’re easy to hide!

For most people, it’s safe to start resuming normal levels of activity between six and eight weeks after surgery. Keep in mind that this is different for everyone and depends on how well your recovery goes. Your surgeon will let you know when it’s safe for you to get moving.

One Year After Your Tummy Tuck

By this time, most people have made a full tummy tuck recovery. The swelling is usually completely gone, and they’re enjoying the results of their procedure after the hard work of recovery. Scars have faded considerably, but they never completely go away. Almost everyone who has a tummy tuck will have some permanently visible scarring. People with good skin tone and high skin elasticity usually find that their scars fade well.

When you have a tummy tuck, it’s important to realize that it might takes some effort to maintain your results. If your weight changes, your waistline may change too; for example, if you lose a lot of weight, or you gain and lose weight, you may end up with more sagging skin. This is why it’s best to have a tummy tuck after you’ve lost all the weight you want to and, if you’re a woman, are not planning to have any more children. If you maintain a stable weight, your tummy tuck results will continue looking great for years to come!

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