Tummy tuck recovery is a process that takes many months. Fortunately, the most challenging portion is typically over within the first two to three weeks (and the first few days are the toughest part of all). If you follow the post-operative instructions provided by your plastic surgeon, this time is likely to be much less uncomfortable with fewer complications. Here’s a rundown of the experiences you may encounter during your tummy tuck recovery period.
Post-Operative Period of Tummy Tuck Recovery
As the anesthesia wears off, you may feel dizzy, disoriented and nauseated. Some patients vomit immediately after surgery or on the ride home. These sensations should pass within a few hours, although some types of oral pain meds may cause the symptoms to recur. Your incision site will be covered with a dressing to keep the area clean and protected. You will also be wearing a wide elastic compression garment to keep swelling down and provide support to the skin as it tightens up. You will wear this garment for several weeks.
Depending on the extent of your abdominoplasty surgery, you may have tubes in your incision to drain away fluid that collects under the skin. These tubes will be removed within the first seven days. If you have traditional sutures, these will typically be removed within the first week or two (absorbable sutures won’t need to be removed). Your surgeon should provide you with detailed instructions for managing your drains, changing your bandages and showering during recovery. You will also be told whether you can put any ointment such as Vaseline on your incision to reduce discomfort.
Pain Management During Tummy Tuck Recovery
You’ll probably start taking pain medication (and antibiotics) right away. You will find it is important to take your pain meds on a regular schedule rather than waiting for the pain to become severe. The pills are more effective when you don’t wait for the pain to get out of control. Pain is typically worst during the first few days. After that, it should get a little better each day. Be patient; you may still be somewhat sore weeks or even months after the operation. You may also feel quite tired. That’s because your body is using a great deal of energy to heal itself. Get plenty of rest, stay well hydrated and eat nutritious food to aid this process. Since pain meds can cause constipation, you will want to eat plenty of fiber (and maybe some prunes) to keep your bowel movements soft.
Physical Movement During Tummy Tuck Recovery
Even though you won’t feel like doing so, you will need to get up and walk around occasionally starting the first day after abdominoplasty surgery as directed by your doctor. This activity helps limit your risk of blood clots and gets your blood circulating to promote healing. Other than that, you will spend most of your time resting and managing post-operative discomfort. Be sure to have plenty of pillows in your bed and on your recliner or sofa so you can create a comfortable “nest” to rest in. You will probably need to sleep and rest with your head and shoulders elevated for a couple of weeks as suggested by your surgeon. When you need to get up, don’t try to sit straight up. Roll to your side first and scoot over to the edge of the bed before gently easing into an upright position. This puts less strain on your tender abdominal muscles.
Besides walking and resting, you won’t be doing any other activities (pulling, pushing, bending, lifting, etc.) If you have a sedentary job, you may be able to return to it at least part time after a couple of weeks. However, some patients require a longer period of recovery before they feel well enough to go back to work. Exercise won’t be an option at all for the first few weeks. After that, if your surgeon gives the OK, you may begin light exercise and gradually work your way back up to your normal fitness routine over the next couple of months.
Normal Side Effects During Tummy Tuck Recovery
Swelling is a typical side effect of tummy tuck surgery. This swelling is usually severe during the first few days after the operation. Then, it will begin to subside. However, it can take many weeks for the swelling to completely go away. During this time, it will be difficult to tell what your new body contours will eventually look like. In fact, it may be six months before your body takes on its final shape. You may find it helpful to take photos of your tummy tuck recovery journey so you can see the changes and improvements from one week to the next. Ice packs and gentle massage (if recommended by your surgeon) may help with swelling and discomfort along the way.
You may have extensive bruising on your abdomen after the surgery. This is another normal side effect. After all, your skin was cut and then pulled away from the underlying tissue during the tightening stage of the tummy tuck. As long as the blood isn’t accumulating under the skin in large quantities (a complication called hematoma), you shouldn’t be concerned. The bruising will fade over a period of a couple of weeks.
Numbness, discomfort and other unusual sensations are normal – especially in the area directly around the incision. These sensations may persist for weeks or months. That’s OK as long as you aren’t experiencing severe pain. Sometimes, numbness may be permanent if nerves damaged during the surgery don’t grow back.
The incision will start out red or pinkish. As long as the redness doesn’t spread and isn’t accompanied by fever, this is not a sign of infection. The color should fade and begin to look more like your surrounding skin over time. This process can take a year to be complete. Even after full healing, the scars will still be visible. Ask your surgeon about products such as silicone sheeting that may encourage the scars to fade more quickly and completely during tummy tuck recovery. This is especially important if you are prone to keloid or hypertrophic scarring.
Emotional Aspects of Tummy Tuck Recovery
It’s normal to go through a period of emotional adjustment during abdominoplasty recovery. This is a major surgery which places a significant amount of stress on your body. Plus, it changes how your body looks (and initially makes it look worse with all the swelling and bruising). This can be difficult to cope with on top of the physical discomfort. Just remember that it is normal to feel anxious or depressed occasionally during the first week or so. You may wonder what you have done to your body and feel that you look ugly. You may become irritable and impatient with the family or friends who are trying to help you out. You may feel like your tummy tuck recovery will never end. If you have severe or ongoing depression, you should seek professional help. Otherwise, just be gentle and patient with yourself as your emotions will take a while to normalize.
Once your body starts to look and feel better, you will probably be glad that you went ahead with the surgery. You may feel more confident and satisfied with the contours of your body after a tummy tuck. You may also like the way clothes fit you better – as well as the way you look in a bikini!