Abdominoplasty, better known as a tummy tuck, is a common and popular cosmetic surgery option. This surgery is undertaken by both women and men who are looking for a tighter, more toned abdomen and/or to get rid of loose, excess skin after weight loss or pregnancy.
The ideal post tummy tuck exercise plan promotes recovery through a gradual increase in the patient’s physical activity, while avoiding excessive strain in the weeks following surgery.
Patient satisfaction rates following tummy tuck surgery are exceptionally high. One recent survey of patients revealed that 86% would recommend the procedure to a friend, and that that 95% felt their symptoms (excess skin and fat) were improved.
It is important to note, however, that both cosmetic outcome and patient safety are closely tied to adherence with postoperative instructions. In other words, it is crucial to follow your plastic surgeon’s activity restrictions and recommendations after surgery.
In this article, expert Paramus tummy tuck surgeons Dr. Gary D. Breslow and Dr. Jordan P. Farkas cover some important dos and don’ts regarding post-abdominoplasty activity and exercise.
It is crucial to follow your plastic surgeon’s activity restrictions and recommendations after surgery.
Although your surgeon will go over the operation in detail before your surgery, it’s good to know some basics about the abdominoplasty procedure in order to better understand what your body is dealing with during postoperative recovery.
First of all, a tummy tuck is not a weight-loss procedure. While some fat may be removed during the operation, a tummy tuck is aimed at removing excess skin, repairing separated abdominal muscles, cinching in your waist, and eliminating skin sags and folds — all of which give you a tighter, toned, and flat abdomen.
In order to achieve this, your surgeon will need to remove excess fat through liposuction and then proceed to create an incision across your upper pubic area. This provides access that allows them to suture your abdominal muscles, tightening them, and also remove extra skin and fat. Your surgeon then ensures that the skin of your abdomen is tight and your umbilicus, or belly button, is well-positioned.
Immediately After Surgery
Every patient is a unique case, but the following information will generally hold true for the majority of patients.
Your tummy tuck will be conducted while you’re under general anesthesia, so you’ll be transferred to a recovery area after the procedure to awaken and be monitored. You can expect to spend at least one night under observation just to make certain you’re doing well.
You’re likely to be very sore at first and will need to take seven to 10 days off work, depending on your speed of recovery and the strenuousness of your job.
During this time you will be able to do the following if your surgeon allows:
- Walk short distances while maintaining a flexed posture at your hips
- Lift objects weighing less than 10 pounds, but not repetitively
The First Two Weeks
The initial two weeks after your tummy tuck are when you’ll have the most bruising, swelling, and soreness. You should take it very easy during this time, especially during the first week.
You should not drive, exercise, or lift any object weighing more than 10 pounds during this first seven days. You’ll also need to wear your abdominal binder, a compression dressing that will help with swelling and bruising, for about six to eight weeks.
Also, make sure that you walk bent slightly forward at the hips for the first two weeks rather than standing up straight. Otherwise, you may pull your abdominal muscles. Finally, sleep in a lounge chair, adjustable bed, or beach chair during this time instead of sleeping flat on your back.
Surgical drains will be in place on both sides of your abdomen. These will need to stay in for about two to three weeks and will be removed one at a time.You will have two follow-up appointments with your plastic surgeon during this period — the first a day or two after your procedure and the next at the one week mark.It’s vital that you attend these visits so that you can be checked for proper healing and the absence of infection.
If approved by your surgeon, you may now perform these activities:
- Walking longer distances, including using a treadmill
- Gentle use of an exercise bicycle
- Lifting objects weighing less than 10 pounds
The Next Six Weeks
Patients are typically able to return to work after two weeks at the most, although you may need to be on light duty at first if you have a physically-demanding job.
If your surgeon approves, you may also be able to begin very light exercise, such as walking or tai chi at around the four week mark. Avoid any sort of stretching until your sutures are removed and forgo sit-ups, crunches, or any other activity that puts strain on the muscles of your abdomen.
You’ll also have additional followup checks about one month and three months after your tummy tuck. Again, be sure to keep these appointments for the sake of your continued recovery.
As the weeks go by, you’ll notice that your bruising, swelling, and pain all continue to dissipate. Although you will probably be feeling much better, do not be tempted to exceed the limitations discussed with your plastic surgeon or push yourself to return to your pre-surgery activity.
For example, any heavy lifting should still be avoided during this time.
If your recovery is proceeding well, your surgeon will likely permit you to engage in exercises such as:
- Low impact aerobics
- Gentle swimming
- Very light weight-lifting
- Extended walking and bicycling
Long Term: Exercising to Maintain your Results
Most patients don’t see the maximum cosmetic benefits of their tummy tuck until approximately a year after surgery. While your physical recovery will almost certainly be completed much sooner than this, the consequences of premature exercise or vigorous activity can be severe. These include bleeding, infection, and a negative impact on the aesthetics of your abdominoplasty.
Once you are cleared by your surgeon, return to exercise gradually. Don’t attempt to beat your workout record or even resume exercise at your preoperative levels right away. It’s best to err on the side of caution and take it slow.
Once cleared by your surgeon, you may now return to your regular exercises including:
- Abdominal crunches or sit ups
- Walking, jogging, cycling, or running
- Weight training
- Vigorous aerobics
If your abdominoplasty was performed to help correct diastasis recti — a separation of the abdominal muscles commonly resulting from pregnancy — you should be able to return to full activity at this point. Additionally, you will likely now be able to engage in exercises and activities that were previously not recommended due to this condition.
Some Parting Advice
There is no doubt that exercise is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle, and you should be applauded for wanting to exercise as soon as possible after your tummy tuck. In fact, regular exercise will help keep your new abdomen looking toned and attractive. Physical activity will also help to prevent weight gain, which can undo the effects of your cosmetic procedure.
That said, remember that too much activity too soon will do far more harm than good. Help maintain your great new look and guard your health by always following your surgeon’s instructions and keeping your post-surgical appointments. If you’re ever in doubt or have a question, simply contact your surgeon’s office and they’ll be happy to help.
Additional Reading and References
- Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery: Patient Satisfaction Following Abdominoplasty: An NHS Experience
- Mayo Clinic: Tummy Tuck — What to Expect
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons: Tummy Tuck Recovery