Tummy tuck surgery – also known as abdominoplasty – is a plastic surgery procedure that removes excess skin and fat and strengthens weakened abdominal muscles to create a firmer and smoother abdominal profile. Abdominoplasty is one of the more popular cosmetic surgeries. In 2019, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that there were more than 123,000 of these procedures in the US.
If you have had a tummy tuck – or are considering getting one, it is very important that you understand the side effects that are involved, risks of the procedure, as well as what outcome to expect. Your plastic surgeon will give you most of the information you need during the initial consultation visit, but it is your responsibility to learn as much as you can about what a tummy tuck entails. This article explores the tummy tuck recovery journey and explains the common complaint of having a hard stomach after a tummy tuck.
Overview of the tummy tuck surgery
Abdominoplasty surgery is designed to tighten up loose skin, tissues, and muscles in the belly region, particularly for patients who are not getting the desired benefit from diet and exercise. Whether you are looking to alleviate a sagging belly pooch or have a plus size tummy tuck, Dr. LaBarbera has 3 different procedure types to suit the varying needs of his patients. These include:
- Complete tummy tuck – this is a type of abdominoplasty that improves firmness and smoothness above and below the belly button including repair of rectus diastasis, also commonly referred to as “muscle repair”, which is a widening of the abdominal “six-pack” muscles.
- Mini tummy tuck – this is a minimal tummy tuck treatment that only addresses the area below the belly button, particularly for patients who have stretch marks or a belly ‘pooch’.
- Extended tummy tuck – this is a more comprehensive procedure option that addresses the entire abdominal area, along with the hips and flanks.
The incision pattern used by your surgeon during surgery will depend on the type of procedure being performed. Plastic surgeons usually keep incisions to a minimum and make sure to conceal them along the natural folds of the skin. Once the incisions are created, the surgeon will lift up and tighten the skin and underlying tissue before suturing them into place. For patients who have excess fat in the belly area, the surgeon may also use liposuction in order to achieve the desired procedure outcome. Since tummy tuck is an outpatient plastic surgery procedure, patients are allowed to go home on the same day as the surgery.
Tummy tuck recovery timeline
Immediately after the surgery, tummy tuck patients are taken into the surgeon’s recovery room for further monitoring before they are allowed to go home. It is important to have someone to drive you home and help out with basic chores while you recover from the surgery.
Abdominoplasty patients often have drainage tubes that are used to relieve excess fluid from the treatment area. These need to be emptied, and the amount of fluid drained from the wound each day should be recorded. Your mobility will be limited during the first few days. Dr. LaBarbera recommends that you take a light walk as soon as you are able to in order to improve blood flow.
Many patients experience tightness around their belly and you will have to walk while hunched over for a week or two. Your incisions will likely feel sore over the first week. You may need to lie in bed at an angle, and you likely will have problems with standing, lifting things, and general movements.
Tuck tuck patients are able to resume work after about a month, particularly if they have a physically demanding job. However, you will be able to engage in routine daily activities within 1-2 weeks. Scarring is usually a major concern for patients who have just had a tummy tuck, but fades with time. Your surgeon may also recommend scar care ointments to help improve the appearance of your surgical scars.
What causes a pulling feeling after a tummy tuck?
Abdominoplasty – just like any other surgical procedure – entails cutting into the body. This naturally leads to some nerve damage. Many abdominoplasty patients experience numbness over the lower abdominal area after tummy tuck due to the damaged nerves in the area. With time – as the nerves start to regenerate their proper pathways – the patient will start to experience gradual return of sensation.
Tummy tuck patients may also experience a tight feeling in their belly because the skin has been cut and put back together. More so, muscle tightening during the surgery can lead to a hardened tissue sensation during recovery.
Although you may feel worried about this tightness and pulling sensation, keep in mind that it is a normal part of the healing process. The majority of people who had an abdominoplasty can experience these side effects for up to 12 weeks post-op. In some cases, it takes up to 12 months for the nerves in the abdominal area to properly heal. Once the nerves regain their usual sensory function, it is highly unlikely that this kind of discomfort will return.
What is the treatment for hardened tissue after tummy tuck?
Nerve regeneration is a natural process that follows its own natural timeline. However, you may be able to quicken this process by taking part in the retraining process. Dr. LaBarbera recommends that you gently rub items of different textures across your abdomen. This may include such things as loofahs, washcloths, lotion, and cotton. The goal is to stimulate the nerves to find their proper pathways and heal much quicker. For patients with severe cases of nerve discomfort, the surgeon may recommend medications such as Neurontin. Make sure that you have explicit instructions and a prescription from your doctor before using medication to treat discomfort and a pulling sensation after abdominoplasty.
Tummy tuck recovery tips / FAQs
Now that you know what causes a hard stomach after a tummy tuck, below are some other commonly asked questions to improve your understanding of the recovery process:
When will I feel normal after abdominoplasty surgery?
Most patients feel groggy immediately after tummy tuck surgery, due to the anesthesia. There will also be post-op pain and bruising over the first 1-2 weeks. This pain can be alleviated using a medication, and the discomfort will improve each day. Over the first 2-3 weeks, you will be limited to light activities and may be able to return to a desk job. The average duration for people who have just had an abdominoplasty to feel normal again is 4-6 weeks. Keep in mind though that the precise healing duration will vary from one person to another depending on the type of tummy tuck they had, their age, the kind of post-op care they receive, and their general health.
How long will I be hunched over after tummy tuck?
You will be unable to stand up straight after a tummy tuck procedure. In fact, the surgeon will ask that you stay in a hunched over position in order to keep the treatment area intact. How long you need to stay in this position varies depending on whom you ask. Dr. LaBarbera recommends that his patients hunch over for 1-2 weeks (until they get a green light from him). Once you are allowed to straighten back up, this should be done gently and gradually until you regain your normal, upright posture.
How long will swelling last after a tummy tuck?
Swelling is a natural aspect of the body’s healing process as fluid collects around the treatment site in order to protect the healing tissues. Plastic surgeons often insert drains to drain away excess fluid and relieve pressure from your belly. These are typically removed after 10-14 days, depending on your progress. Once this is done, slight swelling may still persist for weeks or even months – obscuring the outcome of your tummy tuck. Following your surgeon’s instructions is important to ensure that post-op swelling resolves quickly and that you attain a favorable outcome from the surgery.
When will I see final results?
Following a tummy tuck surgery, the shape of your abdomen will improve gradually with recovery. Most patients are able to see a final impression of their new belly in 6 months. It takes about this long for the pink linear scar resulting from the procedure to fade. Dr. LaBarbera advises his patients to use high-quality scar care products to help quicken the fading of scars. These products should, however, only be used after the incision areas have fully healed (which can take up to a few months).