Although surgical technique and pain management advancements have dramatically reduced the downtime required after abdominoplasty surgery, many patients still have questions about tummy tuck recovery time and expectations.
We’ve put together this tummy tuck recovery guide to help you understand what to expect after your procedure. Read on to discover what you need to know about recovering from a tummy tuck.
What Does a Tummy Tuck Do?
Tummy tuck surgery, known clinically as an abdominoplasty, restores structural integrity to the abdominal muscles and removes excess, hanging skin around the midsection.
It is appropriate for patients who have lost significant amounts of weight, such as after pregnancy, bariatric surgery, or lifestyle changes, and whose skin has not retracted in response. While a tummy tuck is not a weight loss surgery, it can create a much slimmer profile by tightening lax skin, trimming the excess, and eliminating the “belly pooch” caused by separated abdominal muscles (a condition called diastasis recti).
How Long Is Tummy Tuck Recovery?
Most patients are well enough to return to work and school within 2 weeks of their procedure. By 6 weeks post-surgery, patients can usually resume all normal activities and exercise.
Preparing for Recovery
We encourage our patients to think ahead to their initial recovery period: Who can help with child care or housework during those first two weeks? How can you set up your home to facilitate a gentle, convenient recovery? What arrangements or accommodations will you need from your school or employer?
Having a plan in place for who will drive you to and from your surgery and how tasks will be divided up gives you peace of mind that everyone is aware, informed, and knows when and how to help. Not having to worry about calling up a friend or family member for last-minute assistance alleviates a significant mental and emotional weight so you can focus on healing.
We also recommend that our patients create a “nest” at home: a quiet, comfortable space with all their essential items nearby. These items might include water, medication, a smartphone, a laptop, chargers, snacks, pillows, tissues, and blankets. Although we encourage you to start walking as soon as you feel up to it, minimizing excess strain on your body during the immediate postoperative period can help you rest and recover faster.
Immediate Post-Surgery Period
One of the greatest advantages of getting your abdominoplasty done at Mountain West Plastic Surgery is our use of progressive tension sutures that eliminate the need for cumbersome, uncomfortable surgical drains.
These drains prevent fluid buildup (seroma) at the surgical site to reduce the risk of infection. Our board-certified plastic surgeons use a specialized suturing technique for a similar purpose—without requiring patients to monitor and empty drains. Learn more about our innovative drainless tummy tuck procedure in our related blog post.
You will need to wear a surgical compression garment for the first few weeks after your surgery. This dressing protects the incision site, reduces swelling, and promotes smooth contours in your final results. In addition to the normal bruising and swelling, you may also notice that it is difficult to stand upright in the days following your surgery. Your tightened skin will need time to stretch and adjust, but full mobility is typically restored within a week or so.
In addition to the usual restrictions on heavy lifting and physical exertion, tummy tuck patients also need to adjust their routines related to sleep and hygiene.
- Sleeping Position: The most restorative sleeping position for tummy tuck recovery is on one’s back. Sleeping in a recliner or with supportive pillows on either side of your body can help you rest comfortably and facilitate quicker healing. If you are used to sleeping on your side, you may find it helpful to start changing your sleep position before your surgery to make the transition as smooth as possible.
- Bathing: When it comes to personal hygiene, you will need to avoid bathing (as well as swimming pools and hot tubs) for the first 6 weeks of your recovery. Most patients can shower after 24 hours, though some may need to do sponge baths until their surgeon clears them.
- Movement: Introducing short, gentle walks as soon as you can do so can significantly enhance your tummy tuck recovery. According to guidance from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, walking after surgery can reduce the likelihood of complications, accelerate healing, and increase strength, endurance, coordination, and autonomy.
- Instructions: Your plastic surgeon will give you detailed postoperative instructions to guide you through the recovery process, from cleaning and caring for your incision site to minimizing bruising and swelling. Adhering closely to these instructions and attending all follow-up appointments will maximize your healing and surgical outcomes.
Equally important as your physical recovery is your emotional recovery from surgery. Some patients may experience initial anxiety or disappointment, as the swelling may obscure the improvements made. Others may struggle to seek support and ask for help during their recovery.
Staying realistic about achievable results and understanding that your results will continue to develop and improve over time can help you manage some of the emotional aspects of recovery.
As we mentioned earlier, having a support system in place before your surgery can ease your recovery experience. More than offering a helping hand, these individuals can also provide a listening ear and assist you in navigating all the different emotions that may arise.
The Results Are Worth It
A tummy tuck takes around 6 weeks for complete recovery, with improvements continuing to develop over the following months. Most patients can enjoy their results for years and years to come as long as they maintain a consistent weight and healthy lifestyle. You can see the stunning transformations this procedure can achieve by viewing our before-and-after photo gallery!