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10 Things You Should Know About Tummy Tuck Recovery

A tummy tuck is a big surgery! The better prepared you are, the better your recovery will be. Knowing these things before your tummy tuck surgery will help you know what to expect and will help you to prepare. Here are ten things that you may or may not know about recovering from a tummy tuck:

1. Your scale won’t change that much and your clothes may not fit

A tummy tuck with liposuction is a body contouring procedure, not a weight loss procedure per se. To the disappointment of many patients, the scale actually may go up for the first few weeks after surgery. This is due to swelling and inflammation during which the body tends to retain more water than it usually does. It typically takes 4 to 6 weeks before the swelling goes down significantly, and with it the scale goes down too.

Because of the swelling, your pre-surgery clothes may feel a little snug. As the swelling dissipates, you’ll be happy to find that your clothes may now be too loose! My advice is to be patient, as this is a process and it may take 3 to 6 months, sometimes even up to a year for the swelling to resolve completely.

2. You won’t be able to stand up straight for a while

During tummy tuck surgery, your muscles are tightened and excess skin is removed. There are multiple layers of sutures inside holding everything in its new configuration. Because skin is pulled taut, you’ll be bent over for the first week or two until the skin begins to relax and you can stand up. You may feel achiness or soreness in your lower back from being bent over and from spending a lot of time in bed. Here are some things that can help:

  • Rest in a beach chair position. Although it may not be as fun as sitting on a real beach, it’ll be a comfortable way for you to rest. This means having your back elevated, and your hips flexed by placing pillows under your knees.
  • Ben-Gay and Icy Hot can ease the achiness in your lower back. Be careful when using heating pads because your skin may be numb and you may not feel it get too hot!

3. You’ll be in pain, but it can be managed!

Pain after a tummy tuck, especially during the first 7-10 days, is normal and to be expected. Your doctor will prescribe narcotic pain medications, as well as muscle relaxants to help you through the process. In my practice, I also use non-narcotic medications to help reduce overall pain. Other medications such as Exparel can be used during surgery to reduce your overall pain significantly for the first 2 to 3 days after surgery. There is an extra cost for Exparel, but I think it’s well worth the cost for the comfort it brings.

One issue with narcotic pain medications is that they may make you feel “out of it” and will surely make you constipated. Straining to go to the bathroom will be the last thing you want to put your newly tightened and very sore ab muscles through, so it’s a good idea to have a stool softener on hand such as Miralax or milk of magnesia. Both of these can be purchased over the counter.

My biggest pain management tip is to stay on top of your pain meds. Don’t wait for the pain to start before taking your next dose. Set a timer and take your medications as directed, and always take pain medications with food to avoid an upset stomach.

4. You’ll need lots of help around the house for the first 2 weeks

It’ll be the difficult the first week to do even the most basic things for yourself. You will need an adult to help you with everything- preparing meals, getting in and out of bed, getting dressed, and washed. After surgery is your time to recover so let whoever is with you help as much as you need. Even though you may be used to doing most things around the house, this is your time to relax and focus on your recovery!

Most women coming in for a tummy tuck have kids at home who need help too. You should arrange for adequate help take care of your kids, and don’t forget about your pets!

5. Your first shower will be harder than expected

You’ll need to wait at least 3 days before taking your first shower. Once you’re ready to take a shower, you may realize that it’s not as easy as you thought! It’ll be difficult to reach some areas on your body because you’ll be sore and feel tight. You will probably need help getting in and out of your compression binder, and on top of this you’ll still feel very tired.

Some things that you can do to help with your showers are:

  • Place your toiletries and shower items in an easy to reach places prior to surgery
  • Buy a cheap plastic lawn chair or a shower stool to sit on when you feel tired
  • Have a cold drink with electrolytes nearby to sip on in case you feel light headed
  • Get back into your binder as soon as you can to keep the swelling down

6. Expect emotional swings

A tummy tuck is a huge surgery! Combine that with feeling loopy from narcotics, feeling sore or in pain, and you may find yourself experiencing several different emotions in the span of a few minutes.

  • You may feel depressed, sad and regretful
  • You may have feelings of unattractiveness
  • You may feel frustrated by the healing process

This is totally, and completely normal! There is nothing wrong with you, and these feelings are temporary. So if you get the post surgery blues, here are some things that you can do:

  • Let your spouse/significant other/caregiver know ahead of time so they can remember to not take things personally and to help remind you to keep your chin up!
  • Remind yourself that these feelings are only temporary. Every day will get easier and easier. This too shall pass.
  • Look for support from other woman going through the same healing journey. You can connect online with others who have had tummy tucks on forums such as RealSelf or Reddit.

7. Be prepared for swelling. Lots of swelling.

You’ll have a love hate relationship with your compression garments.

The one thing that annoys people the most after surgery is the swelling! Some even refer to it as “swell hell”. Swelling and inflammation is the natural process the body goes through to heal. If you had liposuction in addition to your tummy tuck, then you may experience even more intense swelling. The swelling will get worse for the first 3-5 days after surgery before it begins to slowly subside. Remember, it may take 6-8 weeks before you notice an appreciable improvement in the swelling.

Many of my patients also report the sensation of itching as the swelling goes down. This occurs because the nerves in the area start working again, bringing new yet annoying sensations to the skin.

Here are some tips to keep the swelling at bay:

  • Keep your compression garment on: It may at times be uncomfortable, but it helps to reduce swelling
  • Make sure to stay hydrated: drinking plenty of water actually helps the body to heal and reduce the swelling.
  • Drink a protein shake 1-2 times per day: Protein helps to pull water from the skin into the circulation so it can be excreted. It also helps with the overall healing process!
  • Get up and take a short walk: Walking causes your muscles to squeeze blood vessels, improving your overall circulation

8. You’ll be super fatigued

You’re recovering from a major surgery! Women who are usually ok staying up late will find themselves needing to get to sleep around 730pm. It’s ok, let yourself sleep when you need to. You will heal best when you’re allowed to rest. The energy that your body will use in healing can also make you feel sleepy, too.

Even though you’ll be really tired, it’s best to force yourself to get up and take short walks throughout the day. You may however find that if you’re active one day, you’ll be extra tired the next day. Surgery can cause you to not have much of an appetite, further contributing to the feelings of fatigue. Make sure you’re eating and drinking to keep your energy levels up!

9. You won’t be able to drive for 10 -14 days.

You also shouldn’t be operating other heavy machinery. Because you will likely be on narcotic pain medications after surgery, it’s best to let someone else drive you to important appointments and places. You can go back to driving when you’re no longer taking prescription pain medications and when you feel as though you can react and respond safely if there were an emergency while driving. This is your time to relax and let others chauffeur you places.

10. It’ll take up to a year to feel totally back to yourself

Most of the swelling, pain, and fatigue resolves by weeks 6-8, but you’ll notice continuing changes for up to one year. There are many sutures inside which will cause a pulling and pinching sensation for 3-4 months. As these dissolve those sensations should as well.

Areas treated will also be numb. As the swelling resolves, these sensations should slowly return back to normal.

It takes your incision a year to totally heal. It’s normal for the incision to look red from 3-6 months. This redness is from the body putting new blood vessels in the area to help the healing process. Incisions general fade between months 6-12.

As your energy comes back and the feelings of tightness fade, you’ll find yourself feeling more like you’re back to “normal.” Remember, this is a process that takes time, so be a patient patient.

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