What to Know About Recovery from a Tummy Tuck

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on July 20, 2023
3 min read

Tummy tucks are one of the most common cosmetic procedures for men and women in the United States. Many people focus on the surgery and the slimming effects, but just like with any surgery, there will be a recovery period.

After your tummy tuck, you’ll be a little sore. You’ll need some time to get back to full strength and mobility, but your healthcare provider and prescribed medications should ensure an easy recovery.

If you’re unsure about how to best help your recovery process go smoothly, focus on the proper activities, diet, medicines, and hygiene.

When you wake up from your cosmetic procedure, you’ll have to wear gauze pads bound to your stomach area until you stop bleeding. If you bleed or lose fluids through your incision, your healthcare provider might put small tubes in place to provide drainage for a few days after the procedure.

You’ll need to empty the drains periodically and keep them clean, and you’ll need to be on antibiotics until the drains are removed. If not, you could get an infection.

Depending on your condition, you might stay in the hospital for a few days. While it may be painful to move around, you need to walk as soon as you can after the surgery to help prevent blood clots from forming. When you rest, you can help yourself avoid blood clots by lying at an angle. 

Your healthcare provider will prescribe painkillers to help you control the pain and a blood-thinning medication to further reduce the chance of blood clots.

After you leave the hospital, you’ll need to wear a special abdominal support to help you heal, keep fluid from building up, and give you support. You should wear this for six weeks or until your healthcare provider tells you that you can stop.

Because your core muscles will be recovering, you’ll need to be careful moving around in general. Try not to put stress on your incision, like bending at the waist or doing any abdominal exercises. Any unnecessary pressure could open your wound.

This is generally how a tummy tuck recovery goes, but your age, health, type of tummy tuck, and post-surgery care can shorten or lengthen your recovery time. Your healthcare provider can give you more specific details after a post-surgery examination.

During your weeks of tummy tuck recovery, you can take extra steps to feel normal as quickly as possible.

Activities. If you feel tired, rest. Don’t push yourself or sacrifice sleep. However, keep walking around, and get back to your normal routine as long as it doesn’t strain your abdominal muscles.

Diet. Eat normally and drink a lot of water. It’s common during tummy tuck recovery to be constipated, so don’t put stress on your incision by forcing a bowel movement. If you aren’t having regular bowel movements, eat more fiber or ask your healthcare provider for advice.

Medicine. If your original prescriptions run out and you think you still need them, contact your healthcare provider about renewing them. If you need more pain medicine, consider using a less powerful, over-the-counter painkiller that your healthcare provider recommends.

Hygiene. Leave the gauze and tape on your incision until it falls off or until your healthcare provider tells you to remove it. If you take it off too early, you could risk infection. Clean the area every day with warm water and soap, and make sure to dry it completely. If your provider gave you a topical antibiotic cream, apply it daily.

If you have a history of poor circulation, diabetes, smoking, or heart, lung, or liver disease, you’re more likely to have a complicated tummy tuck recovery. If you notice any of the following side effects or don’t feel like you’re recovering like you should, contact your healthcare provider:

  • Extreme scarring
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection
  • Fluid buildup
  • Slow or no healing of your incision
  • Blood clots
  • Lack of feeling around your incision
  • Uneven or lopsided healing

In addition to post-surgery pain, it’s also common to have tummy tuck swelling. Although it's uncomfortable, this tummy tuck swelling will go away and won't have lingering effects on your health.

If you try to rush your recovery, you could injure yourself or extend what could have been a typical recovery time. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and be quick to speak up if you think something is wrong.