With the help of a tummy tuck, a person can get rid of excess fat and skin around their midsection. While this is an exciting procedure, healing and recovery after the surgery is also a critical part of the process. The swelling can be a cause of concern for many people considering this type of surgery, and it’s important to note that it’s a normal part of the healing process. This article will explore all you need to know about the appearance, severity, and best ways to approach tummy tuck swelling.
Why Tummy Tuck Swelling Happens
A tummy tuck is an invasive surgery that alters your body in some significant ways. It requires incisions to be made in your abdomen, which can cause swelling in that area as it heals. However, this isn’t the only reason why tummy tucks are known to cause swelling. Another reason for swelling is due to fat removal or liposuction during the procedure.
In addition to these reasons, most surgeons recommend wearing compression garments after surgery because they help reduce inflammation from excess fluids by putting pressure on your abdomen so it compresses faster than with gravity alone (which means less time spent in bed).
Swelling Severity After Tummy Tuck Surgery
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After tummy tuck swelling
Swelling after a tummy tuck, also known as an abdominoplasty, is quite typical for a surgery this extensive. How long swelling lasts after a tummy tuck depends on many different factors. Understanding why swelling occurs may help you to better prepare mentally and have more realistic expectations for your recovery and results.
Swelling after a Tummy Tuck Is Normal
Swelling in the abdominal area is perfectly normal and expected after a tummy tuck. In this area of the body, the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels work as a drainage system for fluids. During a tummy tuck, these vessels are cut. Because of this, the body removes fluid in the area a lot slower, resulting in fluid buildup known as edema or swelling.
Swelling is typically at its worst for the first 2 months following a tummy tuck, though everyone is a little bit different. As the body repairs blood and lymphatic vessels, the swelling should continue to resolve. This healing process can take up to a year or longer to complete, so it is common to see minor swelling in that time.
The amount of swelling experienced after your tummy tuck surgery can also vary depending on the treatment plan you choose. A mini tummy tuck or a drainless tummy tuck typically results in less recovery time and swelling than a traditional tummy tuck. Alternatively, adding liposuction to a tummy tuck can produce swelling in other areas of the body as well.
Swelling Can Fluctuate throughout the Day
After your initial swelling goes down, minor swelling continues and can be affected by your daily activity. This is because gravity is not your friend. For instance, long hours standing up can increase swelling in the abdomen, but this usually goes down after a good night of sleep. Once you start exercising, you may also notice increased swelling following workouts.
Tips to Help Reduce Swelling
Although swelling is a natural part of the healing process, there are some things you can do to help reduce the level of severity.
The best thing you can do to help minimize swelling is to follow your post-op instructions for tummy tuck recovery. You’ll be instructed to wear a compression garment for the first few weeks. Other tips to help reduce swelling include:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Staying hydrated
- Eating a healthy diet low in sodium
- Elevating your lower legs
stages of swelling after tummy tuck
I perform a lot of Pittsburgh tummy tucks and everyone complains about lower abdominal swelling and the discomfort that it causes after tummy tuck/abdominoplasty surgery. The bad news is that lower abdominal swelling after tummy tuck surgery occurs in every patient. The degree to which it is observable or becomes a problem varies greatly based on how well you follow your surgeons instructions and your overall health! At my Pittsburgh-based plastic surgery practice, I like to counsel patients what to expect before they have surgery so they are prepared for the inevitable.
You can expect swelling after tummy tuck surgery to occur over the first few days with a peak at days 3-5. A significant amount of your swelling and/or bruising will come down by three weeks post op.
Post Operative Swelling: Why Does Swelling Happen?
When a horizontal incision is made across the lower abdomen, the skin just above the incision now has an altered blood supply. Blood can get in, but it has a harder time getting out because the veins run north to the chest and gravity works against them. Patients that have had flank liposuction at the same time as an abdominoplasty seem to have more swelling. I do this frequently to contour the waist. A basic principal is the fatter or thicker your tummy skin prior to the surgery, the higher the likelihood you will have prolonged abdominal swelling.
Avoiding Swelling After Tummy Tuck Surgery
The good news is that there are some fairly simple steps you can take to reduce the swelling after tummy tuck surgery and speed your post-tummy tuck recovery.
Banish the Bulge: Lay Flat
To avoid swelling after their tummy tuck/abdominoplasty surgery, I always tell my patients to spend the first 4 days after surgery lying with their chest fairly flat, legs elevated, to aid in venous return from the skin flap and from their legs, thereby reducing the incidence of deep venous thrombosis. EVERY OTHER HOUR – get up, walk around, eat quickly, then down horizontal again. SITTING IS THE KISS OF DEATH and will lead to more tummy swelling and cause all your blood and swelling fluid to pool in your pelvis. The “V” lying position is almost as bad. Recliner chairs that raise the chest and not the legs are bad.
Post Tummy Tuck Compression Garments
A good, NOT TOO TIGHT OR TOO LOOSE compression garment – whether it is a lipo garment, girdle, or Spanx – will also put gentle compression on the tissues and reduce swelling. Drains, usually a necessity after tummy tuck surgery, syphon off the fluid that would accumulate under the skin. Make sure they are working properly. Strip them every hour, empty every 8 hours and record the drainage in cc’s. Clean off around the drain entrance sites on your skin with alcohol at least twice a day.
Drains are a mixed blessing. They help create the seal between the fat on the skin and the abdominal wall, healing the large inside wound, but they are also a source of bacteria entering into the wound and can cause infection. The longer the drains are in, the higher the chance of infection. Being on antibiotics while the drains are in DOES NOT prevent infection, but it WILL ensure that the infection might be more difficult to treat with unusual bacteria and higher resistances to normal antibiotics.
Drains are there to reduce swelling after tummy tuck.
Recently, a new technique by a father and son plastic surgery team has been developed that accelerates the healing of the skin flap, and reduces the swelling. I use plication sutures between the deep fat and the muscles to close the space that accumulates fluid. My drainage amounts have reduced by 60%. I have been using this technique for the past 18 months.
Watch Your Diet
Making sure you are eating a healthy, low sodium diet is another great way to ensure you are reducing your post-op swelling as much as you can. Your body needs proper nutrition and hydration in order to heal, so give it what it needs!
Retained Seroma: What To Do
If at 2 weeks post-op, your lower abdomen feels thick and woody, your surgeon should make sure you don’t have a retained seroma, or chronic fluid collection. This can be aspirated off with an 18 gauge long needle and 30 cc syringe. Keep wearing your compression garment and try not to sit much. Sometimes lying with a heavy, flat book on your belly helps create the seal.
Every 20 patients or so I have to put another drain back in after I have removed them. Sometimes I take this opportunity to re-excise part of the center incision, de-fat the edges a bit, and create a tighter closure. This extra surgery helps get a better result and resolves the seroma and tummy swelling.
In the end, the seroma will be gone, you will be healed, and your abdomen will look smooth and flat- the reason why you had the surgery in the first place. I often ask patients – please lose 15 pounds before the surgery, burn off some of that fat inside your abdomen around the intestines and some of the fat right under the skin!! We will have a better final result, and the patient and the surgeon will both be happier because the patient just looks THAT much better.
Tummy Tuck Results
Here are some tummy tuck before and after photos of Dr. Cherup’s patients. Our website has a full gallery of untouched patient photos so you can see the real results that are possible from Pittsburgh’s top plastic surgeon.