Tummy Tuck Recovery

We know how life-changing the results of a tummy tuck procedure can be, but what does it take to get there? From the moment the surgeon closes the last incision to the day you’re finally healed, we’ve got all the details on the recovery process.

The Skinny

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.

The Specifics

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.

  • Pre-Op

    • Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
    • Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), compression garments, and any medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments). Check out our complete guide to recovering from cosmetic procedures in comfort and style to learn more.

  • Immediately Post-Op

    • Depending on how you react to anesthesia, you may feel drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. Even those of us lucky enough to tolerate anesthesia well should expect to feel sore and swollen. Your throat and mouth will be dry and you might have a bit of a tension headache. These immediate side effects should wear off within a few hours.
    • Remember that part of your general anesthesia is usually stronger pain medications that will have you waking up with numbness but not sharp pain. As these medicines get worked out of your system, you should expect to feel a more intense (but not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medicines are most appropriate for you post-op.

  • Day 1

    • So, you hopefully got some sleep (not on your stomach). You ideally kept an ice pack and your pain or inflammation meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also for keeping inflammation down. This promotes faster recovery.
    • You’re probably feeling soreness and discomfort in your abdomen. Breathing may feel shallow or uncomfortable.
    • You’ll be sporting some bruises around your stomach and upper thighs.
    • Hopefully your throat is feeling better and you can tolerate soft foods. Make sure to drink plenty of water!
    • Also, it’s not unusual to have some bleeding or oozing from your surgical sites.
    • Remember that your body is working hard to heal your wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates a lot of inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.
    • Always elevate when possible!

  • Day 2 to Day 7

    • Each day, the pain, swelling, and bruising will progressively improve.
    • Bandages and sutures will usually get removed somewhere between day seven and day 14.
    • You’ll be sporting some bruises around your stomach and upper thighs.
    • During this first week, don’t expect to go to work or be doing anything strenuous. This is the time to binge watch TV, finally organize your inbox, or learn a new language… whatever works for you.

  • Week 2

    • Ok, so now you can probably start thinking about getting back to some aspects of your life. If you need to travel home from your procedure, it’s now safe to get on a plane.
    • Most candidates will probably feel comfortable returning to work at this point.
    • No lifting (and we don’t just mean at the gym).

  • Week 3 to Week 12

    • For most candidates, it’s safe to get that blood pressure up again around week four. Your doctor will give you specific instructions, but you can generally resume more strenuous activities and exercise and slowly ramp up the intensity over a few days as tolerated.
    • Compression garments are usually worn through week three or four.
    • For lovers of long, hot baths, week three is generally the time you will get the green light to submerge yourself in the bath again.

  • 6 months to 1 Year

    • Swelling will become considerably less noticeable and results will finalize.
    • Results are, of course, affected by aging, weight gain, and pregnancy.

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.

The Takeaway

The healing process following a plastic cosmetic surgery like a tummy tuck can seem intimidating. And while we are not minimizing the fact that a tummy tuck is a major surgery with considerable risks and side effects, thousands of abdominoplasties are safely performed successfully in the United States each year with patients enjoying life-changing results. Never underestimate the value of a consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon to more specifically determine what your unique tummy tuck experience will entail.
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Source List


AEDIT uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Mayo Clinic Tummy Tuck mayoclinic.org
  2. American Society of Plastic Surgeons Tummy Tuck plasticsurgery.org

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