Every patient who is considering a tummy tuck will naturally be concerned with the amount of pain they will experience during the post-operative period. Often, they will have received misinformation from a variety of sources and their concern will be unnecessarily heightened. Although all patients will experience some degree of pain in the days following surgery, it is quite manageable with tapering amounts of pain-relieving medication.
For those patients who have had c-sections in the past, I explain that they can expect their pain and recovery time to be significantly less following a tummy tuck than after their c-section. With this frame of reference, the expected pain can be placed in better perspective.
One method I use to reduce a patient’s pain is the placement of a “pain buster” pump: a small catheter placed to deliver local anesthetic to the surgical site. The local anesthetic flows continuously and requires no intervention from the patient. The placement of this pump makes the patient more comfortable and generally reduces their need for pain-relieving narcotics, allowing for an early return to ambulation.
So, although pain is always on the patient’s mind, it is generally not as bad as they expect. However, all patients require pain-relief, though how long for differs between individuals: some only need pain-relieving medication for one day, while for others it could be one week. In fact, most patients are pleasantly surprised that they feel comfortable enough to be out of bed and on their feet the first night after surgery. For all patients, post-operative pain quickly and gradually diminishes, and recovery is much quicker than they often expect.
Concerns About Scarring After a Tummy Tuck
As a plastic surgeon, scarring is the biggest potential concern because it is permanent and something which is not completely within my control. Most patients will heal well and develop a normal scar, however sometimes a patient’s scar will be thicker or wider than they would like. If a patient has had previous surgery I am able to get a good idea of the quality of scar the patient will make.
Although scarring is a real concern for both me and my patients, most patients understand and accept that it is the trade-off for achieving an improved body contour. From a geometric point of view, the more skin that is removed in a vertical dimension, the longer the scar will be.
Ideally, I like to place the scar in a low transverse line that begins above the pubis and moves out towards each hip. Excess skin and fat, stretch marks, and other scars can reliably be removed, significantly improving the abdominal contour. Despite the presence of a scar, the final appearance of the abdomen should be quite pleasing.
Questions Regarding Recovery Time After a Tummy Tuck
Patients also want to know about the recovery time. Many tummy tuck patients are young and have young children at home. Our lives are all so busy these days, so ensuring minimal disruption to household and childcare responsibilities is very important to many of my patients. All patients will need to consider their individual family and life circumstances when they consider the timing of surgery. Nevertheless, living in this busy world there is never a completely perfect time for surgery.
Recovery time after a tummy tuck, like pain, will differ from person to person. Patients often want to know when they will be able to lift their children, when they can drive, etc. Most patients will achieve these milestones gradually over the course of the first 10 days, becoming more physically active as they feel stronger.
I tell them that if they have a 2 year old, for example, they’re not going to be able to reach over the crib and lift the toddler out, but they will be able to cuddle their child if they’re sitting next to one another or if someone else puts the child on their lap. Usually by 10 days they can resume driving as long as they’re not taking any pain medicine. Within 3 weeks, patients can expect to feel about 85% to 90% normal; at this point most patients are feeling surprisingly well and need to be careful not to overdo things. Abdominal exercising should be avoided for approximately 8 weeks after the surgery date to allow complete healing and to maintain their contour.