Medically reviewed by Dr. John Rosdeutscher – Written by Sine Thieme
A tummy tuck or abdominoplasty yields the most amazing results that other belly fat removal options cannot match. However, as a surgical procedure it requires a longer recovery period than less-invasive cosmetic surgery. Whether or not a tummy tuck is for you may come down to how you fit the time it takes to recover from it into your lifestyle. By carefully planning for your tummy tuck recovery ahead of time, you can ensure that it doesn’t disrupt your lifestyle too much.
This article explains which factors play a role in your recovery after a tummy tuck and what the first few weeks after the procedure will look like.
How Long Does It Take to Recover After a Tummy Tuck?
Very broadly, the recovery period after a tummy tuck lasts between two and six weeks. After six weeks, most patients are cleared by their surgeon to resume strenuous activity and exercise. However, every patient is different. How long your recovery may take depends on various factors:
- Whether you are a smoker or non-smoker
- Your body’s immune response
- Natural ability to heal
- Level of post-op activity
- Type of anesthesia
- Type of tummy tuck
Smokers typically face a more difficult recovery than non-smokers. For that reason, your surgeon will require that you disclose any prior smoking habits. Your recovery will also depend on the type of tummy tuck you’ve had, with a mini tummy tuck requiring less time than a full abdominoplasty with belly button repair. Your post-op activity will also play a role. This can be an issue particularly for mothers of young children, since heavy or frequent lifting can lead to complications after a tummy tuck if it is done too soon.
The best way to keep your risk of complications to a minimum is to make sure you follow all post-op instructions you have been given by your plastic surgeon. Recovering from a tummy tuck takes a bit of time, but it will be exciting to see your results almost immediately after your surgery.
Is Tummy Tuck Recovery Painful?
Our cosmetic surgery team at NuBody Concepts takes pride in making sure our patients are comfortable throughout their procedure. This includes being upfront with our patients as to what to expect.
It is fair to say that among all cosmetic surgeries, the tummy tuck has the hardest recovery. This doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of having a tummy tuck. It just means that other procedures, even surgical ones like breast augmentations, are a bit easier to recover from. It’s just a bit harder to avoid using our abdominal muscles, meaning any discomfort is felt more acutely.
Having a plan for the first 7 to 10 days will help you manage this period more easily. Make sure you organize childcare if you have small children so that you are not tempted to lift them up. You will not be bedridden – in fact, it is encouraged that you move around, so long as you avoid any strenuous movements.
Your Tummy Tuck Recovery Step by Step
Directly after the procedure
Your pre-op instructions will advise to make sure you’ve arranged for a driver/caretaker to take you home (Uber drivers are not allowed – it has to be a friend or family member). This is to ensure your safety during the expected after effects of the sedation.
After surgery and with sutures in place, your abdomen will be bandaged. You will be given a compression garment or binder to reduce swelling, prevent blood clots, and help shape your abdomen into the desired contour. You will need to wear your abdominal binder 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a minimum of two weeks, or as advised by your surgeon. The more diligently you wear this garment, the better your healing and results are going to be.
Week 1 of recovery
The first week of recovery is typically the most uncomfortable for tummy tuck patients. You can expect to feel soreness and experience bruising and swelling for the first week or two after surgery. Sticking closely to the medication regimen your surgeon prescribes will help greatly in keeping your discomfort to a minimum. Do nothing that increases your heart rate above resting, but do move around regularly as tolerated.
For 1-2 days after surgery, do not stand completely upright. Walk in a slightly flexed position until you no longer feel discomfort when standing straight. Eat when you are hungry and stay hydrated. Icing the wound isn’t necessary at all, but if you want to apply ice, you should wait 72 hour before applying it.
Make sure you follow your post-op instructions on showering as well as changing bandages and cleaning the drain if one was placed. The compression binder can be taken off for showering but should be worn all other times.
Week 2 of recovery
You should continue to refrain from strenuous activities throughout your second week, but you will begin to feel a lot better. Your bruising should fade and the swelling will beging to go down, although it most likely won’t be gone altogether. Continue to take light walks. Between 1-2 weeks post-op, you may feel well enough to go back to work, provided it does not require any strenuous activity.
Make sure you go to your follow-up appointment as scheduled by your doctor – typically after one week. At this point any stitches that were placed may be removed.
Week 3 of recovery
After about 3-4 weeks you should start feeling mostly back to normal. If allowed by your surgeon, you can begin a routine of light exercise by the third week. Strenuous exercises like sit-ups or weight lifting should still be avoided for a few more weeks – anything that overly taxes the abdominal muscles.
By week 3-4 any pain, swelling, or bruising should also be gone. However, it is possible for swelling to come and go for a while longer. This can be managed by wearing Spanx or other shapeware to help provide compression as needed. Unless you receive other instructions, wearing your compression garment is no longer necessary.
After 6 Weeks
“I couldn’t be happier with my results and I’m only 5 weeks post op! I received a tummy tuck with liposuction after having 3 c-sections. Dr. R and staff were all great. They answered my questions, were very thorough and made me feel welcome. I recommend giving them a try if you’re looking to have body contouring done. Due to the extent of the procedure, the swelling is still going down daily. I was able to see significant results immediately after the surgery. I’m loving my new body!”JaCenta Maclin – tummy tuck, July 20, 2020
Most tummy tuck patients are fully recovered after six weeks. At this time, any kind of exercise may be resumed once cleared by the doctor.
Even though you will see significant results immediately after your surgery, your best results will be visible at the 6-week mark when all swelling should have disappeared. Your scar will take longer to fade. Be aware that the incision sites are very sensitive to the sun (including tanning beds) for the first 3 months, so make sure you avoid sun exposure on the incision or apply sunscreen liberally.
We hope that we’ve answered all your questions surrounding tummy tuck recovery. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions.