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Recovering After a Tummy Tuck

A brief description of recovering from a tummy tuck. The recovery time in broken down into weeks, and describes healing, and what you can do during each stage of recovery.

Abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck, is one of the most common cosmetic surgeries performed worldwide, and has evolved into an effective procedure for body contouring. However, due to the very nature of the procedure, recovery can be a long road. There are many factors that play into the speed and effectiveness of your tummy tuck recovery. Things like a smoking habit, post-op activity levels, your body's immune response, and your natural ability to heal all contribute to the process. Varying surgical techniques have been developed to hasten recovery time and reduce complications, but the risk of both minor and major complications still remains. The most effective way to lower your risk of post-operative complications is to follow all your recovery instructions exactly as they have been given to you.

First week of recovery

The first week of recovery is usually the most uncomfortable for tummy tuck patients. You can expect our abdomen to be swollen, bruised, and sore. Ice packs can help reduce the swelling, and pain medication will be prescribed to help with pain and soreness during recovery. It is important that you take your pain medication on time, as this will help take the edge off before it gets too bad. You will actually end up taking significantly less medication for pain if you stick to your schedule.

Woman taking antibiotics for her tummy tuck recovery.

You will also be prescribed antibiotics to stave off infection. All tummy tuck procedures require a rather extensive incision, leaving your body open to potential microbial attackers. Sticking to a strict antibiotic schedule, which includes completing the regimen, will help your body's natural immune defenses keep you infection free, and speed your recovery. After surgery, your abdomen will be bandaged and you will start using a compression garment, like an abdominal binder. This will help reduce swelling, prevent the formation of blood clots, and aid your body in healing into the desired contour. Bandages should be changed and the area should be carefully cleaned every day, and the compression garments should be worn 24 hours a day for at least the first 4 weeks.

In addition to bandages and abdominal binders, you may also be fitted with an abdominal drain. This is to allow excess fluid to be removed from your body during the healing process and is not commonly used. If they are used for your situation, you will be given specific instructions on how to clean the area, empty the drain, and record the volume of fluid removed.

Lastly, you should try to relax as much as you can for the first week to 10 days, with no vigorous activity or housework for at least four to six weeks. When lying down it helps to have a pillow both below your knees and below your head to help relieve discomfort. You should also be bathing by sponge bath only for at least the first week. That being said, you will not be bedridden. You should try to walk at least a few minutes every hour to keep your circulation flowing. You'll most likely be walking with a hunched posture for a little while, at least until your sutures are removed.

Throughout your recovery you should be avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and stick to a low sodium diet.

Second week of recovery

By the second week of recovery you should notice pain beginning to subside and any bruising should begin to fade. Any swelling should also have begin to go down, but it will almost certainly still be present. You should still be following your instructions concerning pain and antibiotic medication, as well as sticking to only light activity. Following these instructions will have a positive effect on swelling and pain.

Red sign showing salt shaker stating low sodium.

It is usually at this point that stitches are removed, though depending on the details of your surgery and the speed of your recovery, this may not apply to you. You should continue changing your bandages and cleaning the incision area on a regular schedule, as instructed. Your compression garments should continue to be worn throughout the duration of your recovery.

During your second week of recovery you will be encouraged to begin taking light walks to keep your blood circulating well and prevent blood clots from forming. Some patients may even feel well enough to return to work after only 10 to 14 days, but any kind of strenuous activity should still be avoided.

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Don't be discouraged, because it is possible to have a leaner body contour.

Third & fourth week of recovery, and beyond

By the third and fourth week of recovery you may feel pretty much back to normal. At this point you can usually begin a routine of light exercise. However, even if you feel great, overly strenuous exercises like sit-ups or weight lifting ought to be put off for a few more weeks. Most patients are fully recovered by about week six, and once approved by a doctor, can return to full exercise and activity levels.

Pain, swelling, and bruising should be just about gone between three and four weeks into recovery. At this point you will probably be advised to stop wearing your compression garment, and you can return to your normal, everyday activities. This will include your normal diet, as well as the consumption of alcohol in moderation. Even smokers can resume their habit after the fourth week mark, although you may want to take the opportunity to quit for good.

It is not uncommon to experience some numbness in the months following a tummy tuck. This can sometimes take up to two years to fade, and is associated with occasional twinges of abdominal pain. Swelling can also come and go for months after the procedure. The best way to alleviate these ongoing symptoms is with shapeware that provides some compression, such as Spanx.