Thinking about a tummy tuck but concerned about the recovery process? You’re not alone. Many tummy tuck patients at my Houston-area practice worry more about the recovery than the surgery itself. Knowing what to expect can relieve those worries and following our post-op instructions can help ensure the recovery goes as smoothly as possible.
In this blog post, I’ll provide some tips that can help prevent slow healing or complications and prepare you for what to expect as you recover from tummy tuck (also called abdominoplasty). You can also read an earlier blog post I authored to learn about other questions to ask before getting a tummy tuck.
Starting Off Right
At the top of the list of abdominoplasty patients’ concerns is the discomfort involved during recovery. That varies, of course, depending on each individual’s tolerance for pain and the extent of the surgery (mini tummy tuck vs. full tummy tuck vs. extended tummy tuck and how much simultaneous liposuction is done and on how many areas, for example). To help enhance my patients’ comfort level in the first few days following surgery, I use nerve blocks during the operation. Prior to completing my cosmetic closure, I numb up the entire incision with long acting numbing medicine. But it’s not the incision that causes pain, its often the muscle tighten involved during the tummy tuck. So I also place this numbing medicine to numb up the muscles. I use a special FDA approved medicine called Exparel®, a local anesthetic that numbs the surgical sites and minimizes pain for 72 hours and even longer in some cases. Some patients discover that over-the-counter pain relief is enough to manage their discomfort. Using Exparel in my practice for all tummy tucks, mommy makeovers, and body lifts has been transformative for my patients.
Nutritional Support is Critical
It is important to prepare your body for good healing. Your nutritional status is critically important and very under-discussed in cosmetic plastic surgery. Those patients who are nutritionally optimized heal very quickly, their scars fade fast, and they fast track themselves to an outstanding result. Those patients who are nutritionally depleted definitely heal slower. It is commonly said that most Americans (despite no shortage of access to food) are under-nourished. Some feel the western diets lack important nutritional elements. We consider every patient for a special Enhanced Recovery Protocol. We encourage high protein intake and often recommend special nutritional support multi-vitamin packs to optimize your healing potential.
A Recovery Timeline
Much like patients have different levels of tolerance for pain, the healing process varies from person to person. A timeline that establishes general milestones for what to expect during the recovery process is a helpful guide, but not meant to apply equally to every patient. That’s especially important to keep in mind if your body is telling you that you need more rest and returning to work within 10 days, for example, isn’t the best idea.
The First 7 to 10 Days
You’ll need plenty of rest during this time, but it’s still important to move around each day, even if your movement is limited to slowly walking around the house for a few minutes at a time. Walking helps enhance the healing process and minimizes the risk of complications associated with poor blood circulation. Expect to walk bent at the waist for the first 7 days or so. You can gradually ease back into an upright position, but it’s important that the progress occurs very slowly.
I also tell my patients before surgery to prepare an area whey they can sleep in a reclined, but not flat, position. You’ll be sleeping in this flexed position for about 10 days, which helps ensure your incisions heal well and you’re still able to rest and get adequate sleep. Most tummy tuck patients can return to work (desk jobs) 10 days after their surgeries.
10 to 14 Days After Surgery
Many patients at this point actually start feeling pretty close to normal. Again, this is a general observation, and some patients take longer before they feel close to their baseline expectations. Even those patients who feel pretty good, however, need to avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous activities for the next 4 to 6 weeks. If the healing process isn’t complete, the results can be compromised.
Tips for a Positive Recovery Experience
The most important tip I tell all of my patients is that following the post-op instructions to the letter will help you recover faster and with less discomfort. Additionally, be sure to:
- Arrange for a friend or family member to help you around the house. This can be difficult for people who are used to being independent, but trying to do dishes or other relatively minor chores could set back your recovery.
- Be cautious when deciding what you’re ready to do. Again, don’t underestimate the power of resting. Taking an extra day or 2, even if you think you’re feeling fine, will pay off in the long run.
- Prepare activities to keep you entertained and mentally stimulated during your recovery. Create a space where you have easy access to electronic devices (including power outlets to recharge them), books, TV remotes, and puzzles or any other restful hobbies you enjoy.
- Even with our advanced pain control techniques, do not get over-confident. No heavy lifting or strenuous activity for about 5 weeks. You need to give time for good healing.
If you’re considering a tummy tuck, I encourage you to review the gallery of before-and-after photos of actual patients to see the types of results you can expect. You can also contact us using the online form or call one of my plastic surgery offices in the Houston area at (713) 799-2278.