A tummy tuck – also known as abdominoplasty – is a cosmetic procedure designed to improve the appearance of the stomach area. People often consider tummy tucks after having lost a substantial amount of weight, after birth, or to remove stubborn rolls of skin that neither exercise nor diet will shift.
Tummy tuck surgery offers patients a variety of benefits, everything from removing excess sagging skin to tightening of the abdominal muscles, improving overall appearance. It is a significant decision to undergo tummy tuck surgery because it involves the removal of a substantial quantity of tissue.
What is involved in tummy tuck surgery, and how long does it take?
How Long Does Tummy Tuck Surgery Take?
How long tummy tuck surgery takes depends on the type of tummy tuck you are having performed.
In general, surgeons perform two types of tummy tuck: a partial abdominoplasty, sometimes called a “mini tummy tuck” and a full abdominoplasty – a regular tummy tuck.
Partial abdominoplasties involve making a small incision at the bottom of the stomach just above the pubic bone, laterally between the hips. These surgeries typically take only one to two hours to complete.
Full abdominoplasties, surgeries that involve making a large incision that runs from one hip to the other, can take anywhere between two and five hours.
Several factors play into how long a tummy tuck takes to complete.
- Surgeon skill. When it comes to performing tummy tucks, different surgeons have varying levels of expertise. Their skill is not so much in their ability to perform the tummy tuck safely, but to do so at speed. All surgeons must be able to conduct the procedure safely to be able to carry it out at all. But, like anything, surgeons with the most experience are likely to be the ones who can perform surgery quickest. Some professionals will perform multiple tummy tuck surgeries every week, racking up dozens, even hundreds, during the year. Over time, they can optimize their methods to reduce the amount of time that the patient is under general anesthetic. Highly skilled surgeons who specialize in tummy tuck surgery may be able to perform a full abdominoplasty in under two hours for some patients.
- The size of the patient. The size of the patient can have a significant impact on the length of time needed to perform a tummy tuck. Patients vary substantially from one another. Some patients only have a small bit of excess skin that they would like to remove (perhaps following weight loss of pregnancy) while others may want to eliminate many pounds of excess skin and subcutaneous fat. The quantity of fat that needs removing correlates with the time that the surgery takes: the more tissue that the patient wants removing, the longer the operation.
- The type of surgery. Although there are two main types of abdominoplasty – full and partial – there are many variations on each of these, depending on the distribution of fat and unwanted excess skin. More complicated procedures, including those that involve making multiple incisions, will take longer than those that do not. Basic abdominoplasties can usually be completed in two to three hours, but more complicated procedures could take up to five.
The Process For A Partial Tummy Tuck
The process for a partial tummy tuck involves several steps.
Step 1: Marking Out
The first stage in any partial tummy tuck involves the surgeon marking out where the incisions will be made. Surgeons differ in their marking out practices, each according to his or her experience.
Step 2: Anaesthetic
The next step is to administer the anesthetic. The anesthetic will put you to “sleep,” preventing you from experiencing the surgery itself.
Step 3: Making The Incisions
In a mini tummy tuck, the surgeon makes a relatively small incision below the belly button. This incision allows the surgeon to pull the skin tight and reattach it to the skin below, giving it a more toned appearance.
Step 4: Separate The Abdominal Wall From The Belly Button
The belly button attaches directly to the abdominal wall, so it needs to be cut free before skin can be pulled tight.
Step 5: Remove Excess Fat
The surgeon will decide during surgery how much belly fat to remove.
Step 6: Pull The Skin Taut And Cut Away Excess
After removing the fat, the surgeon can see where the skin falls when pulled taut. The surgeon can then decide how much skin to cut away.
Step 7: Stitching Skin In Place
The final step involves stitching the newly cut skin together again. Once this is done, the operation is complete.
The Process For A Full Tummy Tuck
A full tummy tuck only differs slightly from the process described above. Rather than making a small incision just below the belly button, the surgeon makes a much larger cut from hip to hip. The surgeon may also realign abdominal muscles during full abdominoplasty if they fall out of place. Fundamentally, the only significant difference between the two procedures has to do with the quantity of tissue removed, rather than anything strictly procedural.
What Side Effects Might You Experience After Tummy Tuck Surgery?
As with any major surgical procedure, a tummy tuck could result in side effects. Here are some common side effects that you could experience:
Finding It Hard To Lie Flat Or Stand Up Straight
After tummy tuck surgery, it is perfectly normal to find it difficult to either lie flat or stand up straight. The reason for this is that when the surgeon performs the operation, they pull the skin in the abdomen taut. When you lie flat or stand tall, you stretch out the stomach, putting a strain on the skin and stitching, causing pain.
For the first week after surgery, surgeons advise that you maintain a bent posture by flexing your hips while walking, standing and lying down.
Pain And Bruising
After a large incision, the body responds with its usual repair process by sending inflammatory molecules to the site of the damage. These molecules help the recovery process, but they can result in pain and unsightly bruising.
It is important to remember that pain and bruising are both critical parts of the recovery process and to be expected. You can reduce pain and bruising by taking pain killers, taking anti-inflammatories, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Numbness In Your Tummy
The tummy tuck procedure can cause temporary damage to the sensory nerves in your stomach. You may, therefore, experience some numbness for a time after the surgery.
Swelling Near The Scar
After a tummy tuck, you may experience some swelling near the scar. Swelling is a natural process, but if the swelling becomes excessive, you may need to have it drained.
Red Raised Scars
Many people worry about scarring after tummy tuck surgery. The good news is that although you may experience some scarring in the first few weeks after surgery – in the form of raised, red bumps – this will eventually fade and the original site of the incision should eventually be barely visible.
The Aftermath Of Tummy Tuck Surgery
Although you’re likely to be in theatre only one to five hours, depending on the type of surgery you choose, recovery from tummy tuck surgery can take much longer.
After a full tummy tuck, you’ll need to stay in the hospital for two days. This stay is to ensure that you have the medical attention you need should there be any complications. Complications after tummy tuck surgery are rare.
Next, you’ll be formally discharged and sent home with abdominal support garments. These garments help to compress the abdominal area, keeping muscle, skin and fat tissue held in place during the healing process. You’ll need to wear your support garments for at least two weeks following surgery, including while you sleep. Wearing the garments will help to maintain the shape and tone of your abdomen. During this time, you’ll be prescribed a course of antibiotics to prevent infection from infiltrating the site of the incision.
After about seventeen days (or thereabouts), you’ll need to return to the hospital to have your stitching removed. The bond between the two pieces of skin may still be weak for several weeks afterward while the tissue repairs and strengthens. Most surgeons, therefore, advise that you avoid strenuous physical activity for up to six weeks after discharge.
How long a tummy tuck surgery takes depends on a variety of factors, so giving a straightforward answer is not possible. Even if you know which kind of operation you want, the length of time that you are in the theater is not set in stone. If your surgeon performs tummy tucks regularly, then your surgery is likely to be completed much faster than one who performs the operation only monthly or once per quarter.
The needs of your body will also determine how long your tummy tuck takes. If you need more fat removed, then you’ll be in theatre longer than if you just have a bit of excess skin. As a rough guide, though, expect the surgery to take between two and five hours for a full abdominoplasty. Remember, the ideal tummy tuck candidate is somebody who is at their ideal weight.