When deciding whether to have a tummy tuck, it is important to consider how long it will take to recover and how to take care of the scar.
There are many reasons a person may choose to have a tummy tuck procedure, or abdominoplasty. Those who may consider having a tummy tuck include:
- women who have loose skin or abdominal sagging after pregnancy
- people who have excess skin after weight loss
- individuals with a protruding abdomen despite losing weight
Regardless of the reason, a person needs to follow all postsurgical instructions to avoid infection or other complications.
In this article, we provide tips for recovery from a tummy tuck. We also examine how long recovery takes and what to expect following a tummy tuck procedure.
Typically, a person can expect to feel themselves again around 8 weeks after surgery.
According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS), tummy tucks are an outpatient procedure for most individuals, meaning they can go home the same day.
Recovery time from a tummy tuck procedure will vary, depending on factors such as:
- the type of tummy tuck
- the age of the recipient
- postsurgical care
- general health of the person
People should discuss their recovery timeline with their surgeon who can give an estimate that they will base on the individual’s situation.
A person should discuss recovery time before the procedure. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, a person should ask their surgeon:
- how to bathe after the procedure
- when to remove their bandages
- when to return to normal activities
- when to return for follow-up care
- what drugs they must take after the procedure
Asking these questions can help a person prepare and take the right steps for the smoothest recovery possible.
Immediately following the procedure, a person can expect to go to a recovery room. A healthcare professional will monitor them and check the incision.
During recovery in the hospital, they will receive instructions on:
- recovery time
- how to care for the incision
- when to expect to resume normal activity
When a person is free to leave the hospital, they will need someone there to take them home. Doctors do not recommend they drive themselves home after surgery.
There may be drainage tubes that need emptying, and the individual will have to record the amount of fluid draining from their wound each day.
At home, a person should make sure they have someone to help them for the first few days, as their mobility will be limited. They may experience tightness around their tummy and only be able to walk hunched over for a week or two.
Initially, they can expect the incision to feel sore. They will likely need to lie in bed at an angle and may also have trouble with:
- lifting objects
- general movement
Many people take up to a month off work, particularly if their occupation is physically demanding.
After a tummy tuck, an individual may need help caring for young children for several weeks to months. They should also avoid exercise for the first several weeks until a doctor gives them the all-clear.
However, a person can typically return to activities, such as driving, within 1 to 2 weeks and gradually do more everyday tasks as time passes.
Finally, a tummy tuck scar will likely feel sore or tight for several weeks to months following surgery. The visibility of the scar will slowly fade.
Factors affecting recovery time
Recovery time after a tummy tuck can vary. Some common factors that impact this include:
- type of tummy tuck
- postsurgery care
- general health
The types of tummy tuck include:
- Mini tummy tuck. This procedure has the shortest recovery time and minimal scarring.
- Classic or full tummy tuck. The scar will stretch from hip to hip, and recovery will take longer, but a person should be able to hide the scar under their bathing suit.
- Extended tummy tuck. This tummy tuck creates the largest scar. The scar may be visible under bathing suits and takes the longest time to heal.
It can be helpful to take steps to avoid constipation after surgery, as some pain medications can slow down the bowels. Straining to have a bowel movement will cause discomfort.
During recovery from a tummy tuck, people need plenty of rest and must follow all of their doctor’s recovery instructions.
They will need to carry out daily maintenance of their incision and drainage tubes. Typically, daily maintenance includes:
- keeping the incision site clean and dry
- changing the bandage daily
- taking any prescribed antibiotics
- applying topical creams at the incision site
A person will likely have a supportive wrap, binder, or compression garment for their abdomen to prevent swelling and reduce discomfort.
Following a tummy tuck, they should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol for at least 3 months. Tobacco and alcohol can negatively affect healing.
Also, they should:
- avoid lifting heavy objects, including small children
- temporarily stop exercising until told otherwise
- take time off from physically demanding work
After surgery, a person may have limited mobility and experience some pain. Typically, the surgeon will prescribe pain relief medication.
The incision will also typically feel tight, causing a pulling sensation on standing or moving.
Finally, a person will find they can no longer do some of their normal activities immediately following the procedure. However, they can return to activities slowly as they start to recover.
How soon a person can return to their normal activities will vary.
The ABCS suggest the following guidelines:
- up to 2 to 3 weeks for tasks such as cooking, driving, and shopping
- around 2 to 4 weeks to return to work
However, it is not uncommon to take up to 2 months before a person can return to their normal activities.
Full recovery from a tummy tuck — also called an abdominoplasty — can take several months. During recovery, a person should follow all postsurgical instructions and advice, including:
- avoiding lifting anything heavy
- keeping the incision clean
- taking time to return to normal activities
They should talk to their surgeon before the procedure about what to expect in their individual case.