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Tummy Tuck Recovery: Recovery Stages and Tips

  • Neodyne
  • September 2, 2021

An abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck, is a surgical procedure used to remove excess fat and skin while restoring weakened or separated muscles. Tummy tucks are an increasingly popular cosmetic procedure, with 97,988 procedures performed in 2020 alone—and for a good reason. Tummy tucks come with numerous benefits, including a flatter abdomen and contoured waistline, improved posture, and excess skin removal; for many people, these benefits can translate to increased self-confidence.

While the advantages of this procedure are undeniable, tummy tuck recovery can also present a host of challenges. For example, scarring and limited mobility. Use this guide to manage your tummy tuck surgery recovery with ease and learn how to get the best results from your tummy tuck. Keep reading to know what to expect during the abdominoplasty healing process and learn helpful recovery tips. Alternatively, you can use the links below to navigate the post.

Tummy Tuck Recovery

A smooth tummy tuck recovery is essential to ensuring you can take full advantage of your new look. Not letting your body heal properly can result in an abdominoplasty that you're not happy with, and these types of procedures are not cheap. Fortunately, there are several ways you can speed up and even minimize the time it takes to recover from a tummy tuck. Before diving in, let's take a look at the factors that may influence your healing below.

What are the Different Types of Tummy Tucks?

There are two types of tummy tucks—full and mini abdominoplasty—which will impact how long it takes for your body to heal after the surgery. This is because full tummy tucks focus on a larger area of your abdomen, while mini tummy tucks only involve the skin under the belly button. Let's explore the two types of abdominoplasty procedures more in detail below.

Full Tummy Tuck

A full tummy tuck, or traditional tummy tuck, is a surgical procedure that can tighten and remove excess or sagging skin due to aging, pregnancy, or significant weight loss. To do this, cosmetic surgeons will create an incision between the hips and around the belly button. As a result, the belly button will be repositioned to make it look as natural as possible.

Mini Tummy Tuck

Mini tummy tucks are intended to treat minor pouching out of the lower belly, which is often the result of stretched muscles in the abdominal area. They are smaller procedures that take off less amount of skin and fat. Unlike full tummy tucks, there is no incision around the belly button, and the surgeon will not tighten the muscles above the navel. While a mini tummy tuck requires a smaller incision, this procedure still results in a scar on the lower abdomen. The word “mini” can be misleading, as many patients believe it refers only to the procedure's smaller incision, but it still requires time off for healing.

Whether you're recovering from a full or mini tummy tuck, we'll provide a few tips for both of these procedures later in this post to help you get back on your feet faster.

What is the Recovery Time for a Tummy Tuck?

While there's no one answer to this question, the average recovery time for a tummy tuck is two to four weeks. However, how long your body takes to recover from a tummy tuck depends on several factors, including your age and overall health, post-op care, and type of abdominoplasty performed. For instance, if your abdominal muscles are weak, it may take longer to recuperate your strength and feel normal again. After your procedure, your doctor should go over the specific time frame of your recovery, so you can plan accordingly.

Woman's abdomen scar

Do Tummy Tucks Cause Scars?

Remember, tummy tucks are surgical procedures, so the incision made during the procedure will lead to scarring, regardless of the type of abdominoplasty you move forward with. For many patients, the prevention of scarring is one of the most worrying facets of tummy tuck surgery recovery. To properly treat your tummy tuck incision, it's important to understand scar formation and its relation to the three scar healing stages.

Phase 1: Inflammatory Phase

After the skin is broken, as it is during the incision of a tummy tuck procedure, the wound must seal. During the inflammatory phase, bleeding stops, but the body increases blood flow to the area. New cells begin to form a protective scab over the incision, and your scar will likely appear very red. During this phase, it's important to prevent rubbing and friction in the area, as wounds can easily reopen and hinder the healing process.

Phase 2: Establishment/Rebuilding Phase

The body begins producing collagen fibers to fill in the gap and close the wound, and blood vessels form to carry nutrients to the wound site. This step, also called the proliferative phase, typically continues for three to four weeks but may last up to six weeks. During this time, your scar may fade from a deep red to a lighter pink.

Phase 3: Maturation and Remodeling Phase

A scar can take months to years to completely mature, depending on the length and depth of the incision. Genetics and your overall health condition can affect this stage, but the most important factor of scar healing is proper care and treatment. Tension reduction and silicone sheeting like embrace® Active Scar Defense should be used continuously for at least 60 days to help scars fade.

What Do Tummy Tuck Scars Look Like?

The typical abdominoplasty involves two separate incisions that create horizontal scars from hip to hip and scars around the navel. The type of scars that you end up with and how they look ultimately depend on the type of tummy tuck procedure you have and the depth of the incisions. Let's take a closer look at the different types of tummy tuck scars below.

  • Horizontal scars: In order to remove the excess skin and fat deposits from your abdomen, your surgeon must make an incision across the lower abdomen. The incision location lies somewhere between the belly button and pubic mound. This incision results in the most noticeable scar; fortunately, this scar can be minimized through proper treatment methods.
  • Belly button scars: An traditional abdominoplasty also requires a small incision near the belly button. During a full tummy tuck, the belly button is repositioned and reattached. Scarring from a belly button incision should be minimal, as a well-done tummy tuck results in a navel that features a natural inverted U shape.

Recovery Tips

Your body can only heal as quickly as you let it, so it's essential to closely follow the care instructions outlined by your surgeon to expedite your tummy tuck recovery. We've collected some of the best tummy tuck recovery tips, which are designed to promote healing and reduce the appearance of scarring. From nutrition to drain care, these tips and strategies can help you speed up the healing process and get the beautiful finish you deserve from your tummy tuck.

Eat a well-balanced diet

Your diet plays an important role in the recovery of your tummy tuck surgery. To help your body heal faster, you must give it the nutrients it needs to repair the site of the incision. Below, we've listed a few recommendations on what to consume and avoid after an abdominal surgery, like a tummy tuck.

What should I eat after a tummy tuck?

  • Protein: Increasing your protein intake is important during the tummy tuck recovery process. Incorporating foods high in protein into your diet, such as meat, eggs, tofu, nuts, and beans, can increase the amount of collagen your body produces and speed up healing.
  • Vitamins: The right vitamins can help stave off infection, so make sure your diet is rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin C. You can also increase your intake of leafy greens, citrus, tomatoes, dairy, and cod liver oil to obtain the necessary vitamins.
  • Fluids: Staying hydrated after an abdominoplasty helps move essential nutrients and oxygen throughout your body and the incision area especially. It's recommended you drink about 64 to 80 ounces of fluids to ensure you're hydrated.

What should I avoid eating after a tummy tuck?

  • Salt: Eating excess amounts of salt can promote water retention and bloat. This isn't something you want because it'll expand your abdomen, making it more difficult to heal properly.
  • Soda: Carbonated drinks high in sugar can also promote bloating.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol can thin the blood and hinder the body's healing process. Alcohol may also negatively interact with your doctor-prescribed pain medication.

Get Plenty of Rest

Limited activity can help you heal faster and prevent muscle strain and damage, so take your rest seriously during the tummy tuck recovery process. After your surgery, your surgeon will likely recommend that you lay with your head and shoulders propped up and your feet elevated. They'll also provide you with pain medication that could leave you drowsy, so it's important to lay down for the early days following your abdominoplasty. Be sure to have a friend or family member around to provide care for the first couple of days you're home.

However, this doesn't mean that you can't participate in light exercise such as walking. In fact, walking, whether that's on your own and with someone's help, as soon as possible post-surgery can prevent blood clots from forming.

Proper Drain Care

A tummy tuck procedure creates space between your abdominal tissues and abdominal muscles, allowing fluid to collect in this open space. As a result, small, thin tubes will be placed in the incision to drain this fluid immediately following your surgery. These drains consist of a small, malleable tube that ends in a small bulb—the fluid drains out and collects in the bulb.

Proper drain care for abdominoplasty can ensure you the best tummy tuck results. It's important to empty the drain at least two to three times per day or when you notice it's full, whichever comes first. When you empty your drains, be sure to measure the amount of fluid that comes out with each disposal. For the first few days, your drainage will be red in color and gradually shift to a light straw color—keep an eye on the color as the week progresses. You'll likely only need to wear the drains for around a week; your surgeon will remove them after ensuring all excess fluid has been expelled.

You must also take care of the drain site. To do this, use gloves and a safe cleaning agent to disinfect the skin around the tube. Note of caution: Many mistakenly believe that hydrogen peroxide is an effective cleaning agent, but it can actually kill more than bacteria. Hydrogen peroxide can damage new skin cells your body produces when wounded, which can slow the healing process and extend your scar healing time. Ask your surgeon about safe cleaning solutions to use your abdominoplasty incisions.

Not taking the necessary steps to properly care for your tummy tuck incision can result in an infection that can further scar the surrounding skin. Keep an eye out for signs of infection, including:

  • High fever, chills
  • Excess pus or drainage
  • Redness in area
  • Foul odor at the wound site
  • Hot to touch
  • Painful to touch

If you notice one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, contact your doctor or seek medical attention right away. A severe infection can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Reduce Swelling

Swelling is a body's natural response to surgery, and you'll likely experience a significant amount of swelling immediately following your procedure, which should subside within the span of three weeks. It's in your best interest to hinder swelling since the sooner you reduce it, the sooner you'll be able to see the true results of your tummy tuck. To decrease swelling after a tummy tuck, use the following tips:

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids following your surgery. Dehydration can be a very serious health issue following a tummy tuck procedure, so be sure to drink a lot of water.
  • Skip the salt: Steer clear of foods with high sodium content, as salt can make your body retain water.
  • Compression garments: Wear your compression garment as directed by your surgeon—typically for the course of three to six weeks.
  • Use ice: To manage pain and reduce inflammation, apply ice compresses or ice packs to the area daily.
  • Pain medication can cause bloating: Pain medication may cause bloating, which can be mistaken for swelling. Be sure to talk to your surgeon about your pain management options to avoid this confusion.
Woman holding hot-water bottle on stomach

Tummy Tuck Recovery Timeline

The tummy tuck recovery period can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Your surgeon will likely recommend that you take three to four weeks off of work, but this timeline may change depending on your body's ability to heal, your physical condition, and how much fat and skin were removed during the procedure. Generally, your doctor will walk you through the recovery timeline for a tummy tuck, which may involve the following steps.

Immediately After Surgery

After your surgery is over, your doctor will cover your abdomen with surgical dressing and place drainage tubes in the incisions to prevent fluid from building up in the area. At this step, they may also provide instructions on how to take off the dressings and when to remove them. Keep in mind that this shouldn't feel too uncomfortable. If it does, let the doctor know or their staff immediately.

When You Arrive Home

While you should certainly request time off from work, it's important to understand that you'll need time off from your normal activities around the home as well. Most doctors also recommend resting for at least two weeks after surgery and avoiding any strenuous activity for up to six weeks. This means no cleaning, cooking, or running errands, at least until your wound has healed enough and you've gotten most of your mobility back. You may have to ask a friend or relative to help you following surgery. However, after a few weeks, you'll be able to return to work and pursue day-to-day life as normal.

Daily Care and Maintenance

Your doctors should provide post-op instructions, including how to empty your drainage tubes, what to eat and avoid, and how to clean incisions, to ensure the healing process goes smoothly. They may also prescribe medication, such as antibiotics or anticoagulants, to prevent both infections and blood clots.

During the recovery process, make sure to pay attention to your body and listen to it following a tummy tuck. For example, if it hurts too much to walk, your body may need more time to rest. Or, if you find your mobility is too limited to head back to work, take more time off to rest. Your body will tell you if something is wrong, but it's up to you to watch for the signs. Paying close attention to your body can also help you spot the signs of infection. See your surgeon as soon as possible if infections occur, as infected incisions can make scarring worse.

Long-term Effects

While you'll be ready to return to regular activity a few weeks after your procedure, the scar healing process can take much longer. Your tummy tuck incision will stretch across the lower portion of the abdomen, and it's essential to minimize its appearance—before it can cause permanent disfigurement. To significantly reduce the visibility of tummy tuck scars, use the embrace® Tummy Tuck Kit as your doctor gives you the green light. Note that you might not see the full results of your tummy tuck and scar treatment until a year following the surgery, so be patient and take your tummy tuck recovery week by week.

Woman before and after Lipo

Mini Tummy Tucks: Recovery

As mentioned earlier, a mini tummy tuck is a less extensive procedure compared to a traditional abdominoplasty. Despite this, your body still needs time to heal before you can partake in the activities you love once again.

Mini Tummy Tuck Recovery Time

The recovery after a mini tummy tuck is much quicker than that of a full abdominoplasty. Most patients find they can return to work and normal activity two weeks following the tummy tuck. However, while the timeline for healing is much shorter, it's still important to give your incision the same amount of attention and care. Below, you'll find a few tips that can help you speed up your tummy tuck recovery.

Mini Tummy Tuck Recovery Tips

A mini tummy tuck has limited side effects, with most patients experiencing swelling and tenderness in the lower abdomen for the first couple of weeks following the procedure. Scar prevention and treatment is similar in fashion to full tummy tuck recovery care. It's important to provide the wound with tension relief while hydrating the scar tissue for a soft, flat appearance.

It's also best to avoid exposing your tummy tuck incisions to the sun for the first 12 months following your surgery. This is because UV exposure can make your scar darker and thicker, so cover up your incision from the sun at all times. If you must be out in the sun, wear sunscreen and SPF protective clothing before heading outdoors.

As with any surgery, healing takes time, and it's a good idea to take your tummy tuck recovery day by day. That said, the process can be expedited with proper preparation and scar treatment products like embrace® Active Scar Defense. After all, the best way to promote scar healing is through consistent use of scar prevention treatments. The embrace® Active Scar Defense is a clinically proven and doctor-recommended silicone sheet that comes in a variety of sizes, making it easy to find a scar treatment that covers your incision perfectly, no matter the length. Plus, it's easy to apply and remove.

If you want quick, visible results, our unique scar treatment system can help. Don't believe us? Take a look at a few of our untouched before and after photos of satisfied clients.