When it comes to fat-reduction techniques, there are more options than ever before. In the past, banishing exercise-resistant fat from areas like the waist or thighs meant undergoing a surgical procedure. Now those seeking modest results may want to consider a non-invasive fat-reduction treatment. But are these treatments a good option? And how do they compare to traditional surgical fat-reduction treatments?

Surgical Fat-Reduction Options

Tummy tucks and liposuction are two common fat-removal surgical treatments. As the name implies, a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) is a surgical procedure done to tighten abdominal muscles and remove excess abdominal fatty tissue and skin.

Liposuction, a surgical technique that involves removing areas of fat through a tube, can be used on pockets of fat that have accumulated in the stomach, buttocks, hips, waist, thighs, calves, ankles, breast, back, arms and neck.

Since they are not performed for medical reasons, tummy tucks and liposuction are considered cosmetic or aesthetic plastic surgery.

Non-Invasive Fat-Reduction Treatments

There are a number of non-invasive fat-reduction options available to target specific areas of the body where exercise-resistant fat can accumulate. All are appropriate for the abdominal area and some can be used on other body parts as well.

Some of the more common treatments include:

  • CoolSculpting – a controlled cooling technique that targets fat cells and eliminates them. According to the Zeltiq website, the company behind CoolSculpting, results occur within three weeks to two months following treatment. Additional treatments may improve results.
  • Cold Laser – The Zerona Company offers a body-contouring treatment that uses a low-level laser system to weaken fat cells allowing contents to flow out. The excess fat is then processed by the lymphatic system. Multiple treatments are recommended.
  • Liposonix – Uses high-intensity focused ultrasound to destroy fat cells beneath the surface of the skin. It requires a single one-hour treatment session and information from the company website indicates within eight to 12 weeks the average patient can expect to see a one-inch reduction in waist size.
  • Ultrashape – This body-contouring procedure uses ultrasound waves to break down fat cells. According to www.ultrashapex.com, the treatment, which is not yet available in the United States, works on the abdomen, thighs, and flanks (love handles). The company reports an average 2 cm reduction following a single treatment.

Surgical vs. Non-Surgical Fat-Reduction Results

When comparing traditional or surgical fat-reduction options with non-invasive fat-reduction treatments, it’s important for patients to realize no matter which non-invasive technique you use, results will not be the same as those seen with surgery.

“The techniques are not a replacement for surgery,” says Houston plastic surgeon, James Boynton, MD, of Boynton Plastic Surgery. “Patients should expect to see more modest results than what they will see with a surgical treatment.”

But while non-invasive techniques may not rival surgical techniques for results, patients who understand the limitations and who have realistic expectations are often satisfied with the end results. “For some patients, non-surgical techniques can be the push they need to get started,” says Dr. Boynton. “They can also be used as a touch-up following surgery or for those in their fifties or sixties who aren’t hoping for bikini bodies, but are fit and just want a tuneup.”

Comparing Costs of Surgical Fat Reduction with Non-Surgical Options

Some non-surgical fat-reduction treatments are as little as one-third of the costs of traditional liposuction or tummy tuck procedures, but Boynton warns patients to educate themselves on any procedure they may be considering and be aware of issues that can run up costs. “If three or four treatments are required, you may end up spending the same amount you would have spent for lipo,” he says.

Typically, neither surgical nor non-surgical fat-reduction treatments are covered by health insurance, so any expense incurred will be out of pocket.

Recovering from Surgical and Non-Surgical Fat-Reduction Treatments

Recovery time following liposuction may last from a few weeks up to two months after the procedure. Patients may experience bruising, swelling and soreness. Liposuction usually requires a few days off from work, but most patients can return to a normal schedule within two weeks.

Tummy tuck patients usually have some pain and swelling for a few days after surgery. Soreness may persist for weeks or even months and some patients also complain of temporary numbness, bruising, tightness and fatigue during recovery. Patients may have temporary drains at the incision site for approximately two weeks, and sutures usually remain in place for two to three weeks following surgery. Recovery time is longer and some patients schedule up to one month off work.

Most non-invasive fat-reduction options have virtually no recovery time, although some patients report minimal bruising and mild soreness.

What’s Right For You?

Before deciding on a fat-reduction treatment, learn all you can about treatment c