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Recovery After A Tummy Tuck Operation

The recovery period after tummy tuck surgery will vary from patient to patient and depends on a number of factors such as

  1. Type of Tummy Tuck performed
  2. Additional procedures performed e.g. liposuction
  3. Age of the patient
  4. General health and fitness of the patient

A tummy tuck is a body contouring procedure achieved by

  • Removing the excess skin,
  • Tightening the abdominal muscles, and
  • Removing loose fat in the area
  • Repositioning the belly button
  • Contouring by liposuction

In simple words, your skin will not be in the same place after surgery. The re-arrangement of skin also changes the blood vessels and lymphatic drainage of the area.

Since the fat of the abdomen has a rich blood and lymphatic supply, tummy tuck surgery or liposuction will damage the blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, fat cells and connective tissues. Naturally more blood and lymphatic fluid will pool in the increased space created by liposuction.

Swelling following surgery is a natural and healthy response to tissue injury and is the body’s way of fixing the problem. The increase in the blood flow and blood cells to the surgical site seen after surgery is to help the body repair damaged tissues quickly.

What Is the Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is a network of very delicate channels that are present in all tissues. Similar to the blood vessels that transport blood, lymphatic vessels transport lymphatic fluid. The balance of fluid in the tissues that are maintained by the blood vessels and the lymphatic vessels is disrupted following surgery.

When the veins and lymphatics become sluggish, swelling results. Since the lymphatic vessels need time to heal and reconnect they cannot drain the lymphatic fluid increasing the swelling in the lower abdomen.

Following surgery, all patients will experience swelling, bruising and discomfort due to the tissue injury and the response that follows. Recovery after surgery varies from person to person and depends on many factors such as age, overall health, level of physical activity, skin health, type of the surgery and complexity of the surgery, type and area of liposuction.

The main factor that determines how long is the recovery after having a tummy tuck is the type of tummy tuck procedure which is preformed (full tummy tuck, mini tummy tuck, tummy tuck with liposuction or Fleur De Lys after massive weight loss).  Generally speaking there are four components which are involved in tummy tuck surgery;

  1. Removal of loose and excess skin
  2. Removal of excess fat
  3. Contouring of the abdomen and flanks using liposuction
  4. Repair of separated or loose stomach muscles (rectus divarication).

Patients who do not require muscle repair as part of their tummy tuck procedure generally have the fastest recovery time. The bigger the tummy tuck the larger the incision the slower the recovery. Pre-existing medical conditions, general health and age also play part in how long recovery will take. Younger, healthy patients will take less time to heal than older patients with health issues.

Patients having a tummy tuck following massive weight loss and patients with a higher BMI tend to have longer recoveries. Without proper management of swelling, longer recovery times, greater pain and discomfort and poor aesthetic results can occur.

Immediate recovery after a tummy tuck operation

Once your tummy tuck procedure is finished, you may be able to go home within a few hours if you have had a mini tummy tuck. All others are required to stay in hospital for up to 2-3 nights depending on the complexity of the operation.

Immediately after your tummy tuck operation, you will have an abdominal binder to support your stomach, two drain tubes to prevent excess fluid from collecting and multiple IV lines and in most cases a urinary catheter. You may have a PCA pump for pain management. You will find it most comfortable lie in bed with a pillow under your knees, or the bed will be bent so that your hips and knees remain flexed to ensure that you are pain-free, comfortable and your wounds are supported.

Day 1 post-op: Your urinary catheter will be removed and as your oral intake of fluids increase the IV fluids can be stopped. You will be asked to mobilise with assistance and it is normal to walk around bent over. Immediately after your tummy tuck surgery, you may not be able to stand upright due to your muscles and skin adjusting to the surgery. You will be encouraged to take short walks up and down the ward corridor to promote blood circulation.

You will find sitting on a chair comfortable as long as the hips and knees are bent. You will be given instructions for deep breathing exercises and you will be encouraged to do so regularly to ensure that oxygen reaches all parts of the lung.

The drainage tubes will drain the excess fluid that will be measured daily. The drain output will persist for a few days and gradually reduce. When the drain output is less than 25 mls per day it is safe to remove them. Once the drains are removed you can go home with instructions for post-operative care.

By the end of your second week after tummy tuck surgery, you should expect to be able to stand up mostly straight, though the abdominal area may still feel tight. There will likely still be a degree of swelling and even discomfort or occasional pain.

If you are concerned about your pain levels, it is important to speak to your surgeon. If at any time your incision wound changes colour, is more painful than it was before, feels hot to the touch or has a funny smell, this could indicate an infection and requires medical treatment straight away.

It is recommended that you avoid any lifting, straining or bending for four weeks as these activities will increase the amount of swelling or bleeding to the abdominal area. It can take between a few weeks to a few months for the swelling to fully subside from the abdominal area after surgery. Scarring will also remain dark in colour for 4- 6months post-surgery.

Most patients resume their work and most of their regular activity 4-6 weeks after surgery. During this period of time, it is normal to experience some mild pain or discomfort, as well as swelling. Any severe pain should be reported to your surgeon.

By 8 -12 weeks the majority are back to the level of work and activity they were at before undergoing the tummy tuck procedure.

Numbness over certain parts of the abdominal area is also normal and it can take several months to regain feeling in those areas. Scarring from the incision sites will be red or pink in colour and remain for several months after surgery. In some cases, scarring will appear to get worse before it begins to fade.

Unless you experience a significant change in weight, or fall pregnant, the results from your tummy tuck should be evident for many years. Ageing and gravity will naturally change the appearance of your abdomen in time, if you are dissatisfied with the appearance of your tummy when this occurs you may decide to undergo another tummy tuck to restore your abdomen to a flatter and firmer condition.

When can the drains come out after my tummy tuck

The amount of fluid that is collected in the drain in a 24 hour period will determine when the drain can come out. In the first 2-3 days the drain output will be high. As the healing progresses and the fluid production decreases there will be less than 25 mls of drain fluid per 24 hours. Occasionally, the fluid output is high and consistently over 25 mls per 24 hours.

It is OK to go home with the drains. You will be given instructions to monitor the drain output. While the drains are in, you will need to be on oral antibiotics.

When can I go home after my tummy tuck

Once your tummy tuck procedure is finished, you may be able to go home within a few hours if you have had a mini tummy tuck. Otherwise you may be required to stay for a few nights.

Constipation after tummy tuck

Effects of anaesthesia, pain medication, lack of movement and dehydration all contribute to constipation seen after a tummy tuck.
It is essential to maintain a nutritious diet before and after surgery to aid in healing and recovery. With increasing mobility, good hydration and consuming fiber rich food, your gut function and movement will be restored to normal. Stool softeners or laxatives can be of assistance following the surgery.

Swelling following a tummy tuck

Swelling after a surgical operation is not instant. It gradually develops after the surgery and usually peaks on Day 3 and gradually reduces over the next few weeks. It is expected that swelling after tummy tuck surgery will follow this pattern and persist for up to 6 to 12 weeks. In the days immediately following tummy tuck surgery, in addition to the tummy, it is normal to expect swelling in the mons pubis, upper thigh and flanks. Basically, the area around the operated site will swell.

Gentle mobilisation under supervision and assisted walking the morning after surgery although uncomfortable helps with moving the lymphatics, helps fluid circulation and reduces swelling. While the drains are in, wearing a 3 panel binder 24/7 helps to limit swelling. Following removal of the drains usually Day 3, a post surgical compression garment worn with the binder provides uniform compression that helps maintain lymphatic movement and the abdominal binder reinforces the support.

Tummy Tuck Recovery Week By Week

Week 1: At the end of the week, Patients report swelling, in the Mons area and the incision site. The whole abdomen usually feels very hard to touch and the skin is numb. This is a normal post tummy tuck response and most likely due to the inflammation of the tissues as part of the healing process. Patients are encouraged to walk in and around the house on a flat area for 10 -15 minutes in each hour on the hour and gradually increase walking and standing time. Oral supplements such as Arnica 30c and Bromelain forte are helpful in helping with the bruising and swelling.

Week 2 and 3: Patients notice more swelling in the abdomen after standing or walking for longer periods. This is a normal response and the swelling will subside with more rest. Patients often report that strict adherence to compression and binder use along with finding a good balance to moving and resting is key in keeping swelling minimal at this stage of recovery.

Week 4: Patients notice major improvement in mobility and back to most usual activities and gentle, short walks. Patients notice the abdomen is softening dramatically – not hard to touch and numbness in the skin is dissipating.

Week 5: Patients reports very minimal swelling on the abdomen. Patients report more range of movement in the core and only some minor swelling at the end of the day.

Week 6: Patients report slightly more swelling by the end of the day, which is not present in the morning. Patients are still wearing compression a garment and binder all day and all night except for showering.

Tummy Tuck Recovery

What is the average recovery time for a tummy tuck

Swelling and bruising are normal and expected to occur after a tummy tuck. Depending on the patient, they can take some time to disappear completely; some notice the swelling and bruising disappear over a number of weeks, while in others it can take months for it to fully subside. Numbness over certain parts of the abdominal area is also normal and it can take several months to regain feeling in those areas. Scarring from the incision sites will be red or pink in colour and remain for several months after surgery. In some cases scarring will appear to get worse before it begins to fade.

Unless you experience a significant change in weight, or fall pregnant, the results from your tummy tuck should be evident for many years. Ageing and gravity will naturally change the appearance of your abdomen in time, if you are dissatisfied with the appearance of your tummy when this occurs you may decide to undergo another tummy tuck to restore your abdomen to a flatter and firmer condition.

Compression Binder After Tummy Tuck

Compression garments can help reduce swelling by pushing the swelling to move away from the surgical site. This is similar to the athlete who uses an ace bandage to decrease swelling following and ankle sprain.

Following a tummy tuck or liposuction we use medical compression garments to control the swelling and improve the healing. Medical compression garments provide two-way stretch in both the longitudinal and transverse directions to provide uniform compression.

The compression garments are of three types based on the pressure they exert on the skin. These medical compression garments are specially designed for uniform pressure, it is important to ensure they fit properly to be effective.

If the garment does not fit well, too loose or too tight it is ineffective and may be harmful. Swelling following surgery or liposuction may remain for many months after surgery and compression garments to provide even, uniform compression of all areas suctioned is important.

As a rule of thumb, most of the swelling has come down by 6 weeks and during the next 6 weeks the skin will start to tighten. It is important to use the compression garment for 12 weeks to see the best results. A well fitted medical compression garment can be used in conjunction with Lymphatic massage.

How is Lymphatic Massage different

Most of us are familiar with massages that target muscles whereas lymphatic massage addresses the skin to help the lymphatic drainage. Unlike the deep tissue pressure of regular massage, the lymphatic massage uses light touch and gentle rhythmic strokes to help the movement of lymphatic fluid. After surgery, the lymphatic channels are frequently disrupted and can take up to 12 weeks to restore connections. The Lymphatic massage technique helps to reduce swelling, improve recovery and improve aesthetic results by decreasing congestion of the tissue.

Here are some additional tips to help you deal with swelling and other issues during recovery:

  • Take a probiotic supplement to improve digestion
  • Drink green tea and take vitamin C and vitamin A supplements to boost your immune system
  • Use arnica and bromelain to reduce swelling
  • Drinking at least 2 litres of water per day
  • Nutritious lean meat and vegetables.

Seroma after Tummy Tuck

Seroma, the fluid accumulation experienced after surgery, is quite common after a tummy tuck and liposuction procedure. 10 percent of patients experience seroma, making it the most common complication from tummy tuck and liposuction cosmetic surgery.

In order to minimise the incidence of seroma, it is important that the post-operative drains are left in until the output of fluid from the area is less than 25cc per day. On average, this takes a maximum of 7-10 days after surgery, though it can take longer in patients who have had tummy tuck following massive weight loss.

The Waterbed Effect

Symptoms of a seroma include what is known as ‘the waterbed effect’, where if a patient taps the side of their abdomen, the fluid produces a wave effect from one side of the stomach to the other. This can be easily fixed by draining or aspirating the area. Serial aspiration is used when the seroma is visible or you can easily feel them under the surface of the skin.

Unless they get infected, seromas are harmless and more of a nuisance than a danger. Typically they last one to two weeks, though in some cases they can persist for up to six weeks, or even longer.

As your body heals less fluid will fill the area operated on and your lymphatic vessels will regenerate, which stops the collection of fluid in the abdominal area. Your body will also naturally reabsorb the fluid in a seroma over a period of time, which aids in the healing of seromas.

Small seromas may persist for a number of years before they completely disappear in some cases. This occurs when a chronic seroma forms. In these cases the wall of the seroma thickens, which prevents the fluid being absorbed by the body. Chronic seromas are relatively rare and only occur in a minority of patients. These should be checked over by your cosmetic surgeon, as they are the most prone to infection. Typical treatment for chronic seroma is either serial aspiration or excising the sac completely, though it is rare that this needs to occur.

There has never been a better time to have Tummy Tuck Surgery

With modern techniques and recent technological advancements, Tummy Tuck Surgery has become safer, effective and capable of delivering results that you always wanted with minimal pain, discomfort and downtime. A well trained  Plastic Surgeon using modern techniques can offer you better and longer lasting results while the specialist Anaesthetist ensures your safety and comfort in a setting of an accredited hospital.

As with any medical procedure, it is important to seek the advice of a specialist plastic surgeon. Each person’s anatomy is different and an examination and evaluation by a Plastic Surgeon will help determine the most appropriate and effective approach to meet your particular needs.

Is tummy tuck covered by Medicare or private health insurance?

Tummy tuck when performed after massive weight loss is eligible for Medicare benefits and health fund rebates subject to satisfying strict criteria defined by Medicare. If the patient has private health insurance, generally they are able to claim back a portion of the surgical fee, the anaesthetic fee and the cost of their hospital stay. Tummy tuck to reverse changes due to pregnancy and childbirth are no longer eligible for Medicare benefits and health fund support.

The Value and Expertise of a Registered Specialist Surgeon for Tummy Tuck Surgery

Forme Institute Specialists Surgeons are trained to the highest Australian standards

  •  AHPRA registered specialists in the medical specialty of Plastic Surgery (plastic surgery includes cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery)
  • Completed Australian Medical Council accredited surgical training and exams conducted by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). FRACS stands for Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, a qualification awarded only to those doctors who have successfully completed several years of rigorous surgical training. With a commitment to lifelong learning and high standards of professionalism. Consider this qualification when choosing a surgeon.
  • Have a lifelong commitment to excellence in cosmetic surgery through research and continuous professional development and membership in learned societies like the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) and the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

These qualifications, standards, and certifications are the ‘Australian Standard’ and significantly different from those who are unregistered surgeons who call themselves “cosmetic surgeons”.

These factors must be taken into consideration when evaluating your surgeon. If any, the cost difference should be evaluated in terms of the value attached to personal safety and well-being, the value attached to the quality of care, and the value attached to natural long-lasting results.

Plastic Surgeons Vs Cosmetic Surgeons

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The Forme Institute is a group of highly qualified and experienced Specialist Plastic Surgeons. We are committed to providing the best practice procedures and the most innovative treatment options. Our team has 20+ years of combined experience practicing plastic surgery. If you’re interested in having liposuction surgery, contact us today to make a consultation appointment.

FRACS (Plastic Surgery) – Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Australian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS)
Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
Australian Medical Association (AMA)

FRACS (Plastic Surgery) – Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Past President : ASAPS ( Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons)
Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
PhD (Eyelid Surgery) – University of Louisville, USA