The swelling experienced after a tummy tuck procedure will present a little differently for each person, but generally, will appear then resolve in a few stages. A tummy tuck is a relatively invasive and extensive cosmetic surgery and as such, it requires adequate time to recover and see settled results. Tissue induration or firmness can last up to 6 months as inflammation slowly leaves the body.
Immediately post-procedure, abdominal tissues will tend to swell over the first few days- peaking roughly day 3-5. Many patients will describe a sensation of tightness and bloating. Your limbs may retain a little fluid for a day or two after your surgery but this is usually eliminated naturally within a day or two.
A significant amount of your swelling and/or bruising will come down by three weeks post op. Tummy tuck patients will wear a snug, elastic abdominal binder which applies consistent compression to the tissue and helps to minimize the risk for seroma (collections of fluid) under the surface. The binder or a compression garment will usually be worn for 3-6 weeks. Patients are advised to limit physical activity, including cardio-type workouts, for the first three weeks in order to further help reduce swelling and other risks. Once out of the binder and resuming normal daily activity, you may notice slight, rebound swelling which subsides within a few weeks. Gentle massage can be done by the patient after the second week to help move fluid away from the area and smooth contours.
Between 3 weeks and roughly two months post op, tummy tuck patients will note a significant decrease in swelling around their midsection, as well as most discomfort and remaining tightness. At 3 weeks, most patients feel like they are getting “back to themselves”, however, residual swelling of the abdomen can remain for up to 6 months.
The abdomen will often hold a little fluid in the tissues just above the incision line- where circulation and the lymphatic channels in the front of the body have been disrupted. This can create a small “muffin top” or overhang. The umbilicus, especially if a small hernia was repaired, is another area where residual inflammation may persist for a few months longer. This phase of waiting for all swelling to completely leave the body can be very frustrating and requires much patience. As you will see your most rapid changes in the first month or so, this last phase is important to understand and anticipate. 6 months is typically a good time to evaluate settled results for most people. In the long run, some patients will even experience minor, intermittent swelling when increasing activity levels a year or more after surgery.
The following are some factors which may influence post-abdominoplasty swelling:
– Muscle/diastasis recti repair
– Supplementary liposuction done with the tummy tuck
– The surgical plan: Mini, full or FAB tummy tuck, additional repair
– The patient’s overall health
There are a few things you can do to ensure that you experience minimal swelling and recover more quickly. Following your plastic surgeon’s post-op instructions will help keep you on track.
Arnica tablets and Arnica based topical gel can help reduce both swelling and bruising.
Wear your post op garment properly, snugly and consistently for the duration of the time that you are advised to.
Avoid prolonged standing or sitting for the first couple of weeks and certainly avoid activity which elevates your heart rate and gets the blood pumping as you will increase blood pressure and tissue swelling.
Excessive twisting and turning at the waist as well can not only cause discomfort but increase fluid in the area.
Gentle massage by hand or with a soft paint roller can be helpful.
Swelling is a normal part of tummy tuck recovery. The best way to help yourself heal and recover quickly is to relax and try to be patient. Be sure to discuss your expectations with your plastic surgeon. Plan ahead, take time off, and get assistance at home if you need it so that you don’t have to overexert yourself.
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