Is a tummy tuck painful?

After childbirth, weight loss, or due to ageing, you can find yourself feeling frustrated by excess skin and fat around your tummy. You’ve tried exercising and dieting but they just don’t seem to help you to achieve the flatter stomach you desire. Now, you are considering cosmetic surgery to help you to create a smoother, more toned, and shapelier tummy. But is a tummy tuck painful?

The question of pain is one we often hear our patients ask about when they are thinking about having a tummy tuck. Of course, it’s natural to be concerned about how painful the procedure will be in the quest to lose sagging skin or a protruding abdomen and gain a flatter or more curvaceous waistline. After all, a full tummy tuck is major surgery and will require some amount of pain management.

How painful is a tummy tuck procedure?

The amount of pain you feel after a tummy tuck will depend on the type of tummy tuck you have. Understanding what the procedure involves can help you to appreciate why you may feel pain.

A tummy tuck, also called an abdominoplasty, is an extremely successful surgical procedure, designed to smooth and sculpt your stomach. It can remove excess loose skin, fat, and stretch marks on your tummy and tighten your abdominal muscles.

Tummy tucks are performed under general anaesthetic. This means you will be asleep during the procedure and you will not feel any pain. Your surgeon makes a large cut along your lower abdomen, often from one hip to another. They remove excess fat and skin from the area and repair and tighten your abdominal muscles.

There are different types of tummy tucks. Some involve more extensive surgery than others. You may choose a full tummy tuck if you have a lot of excess skin; a partial tummy tuck if you have just a little excess skin, you have had substantial weight loss after weight loss surgery, or you have post-pregnancy issues; or an endoscopic tummy tuck if only your abdominal wall muscles need tightening.

If you have a partial or mini tummy tuck you can expect less pain than a standard tummy tuck. This is because a mini tummy tuck procedure is less invasive with smaller cuts and does not require your belly button to be reset or your abdominal muscles realigned.

You may experience pain through tightness and reduced mobility whilst recovering from a full tummy tuck. If you have a temporary drainage tube, you might feel sore or discomfort around it.

It’s important to follow your surgeon’s post-operative instructions to minimise your pain and support optimum healing. Post-operative advice may include guidance on movements and activities to avoid and how long to wear a compression garment.

Your surgeon may also use or advise on pain medications. Sometimes pain medication is injected into the area around your sensory nerves and acts as a nerve block.

Every patient responds differently to tummy tuck surgery and has different pain thresholds.

How long does the pain last following a tummy tuck?

How long your pain lasts after a tummy tuck will depend on the type of abdominoplasty surgery you have.

Initially, after a standard tummy tuck, you will feel bruised and tender with some swelling. You may be tired and have moderate pain for several days to a week post-surgery. This will steadily improve. You can take painkillers or you may be given a pain injection to manage your pain. Your surgeon will discuss your pain options with you.

You may find daily activities like getting up out of your seat, standing up straight for long periods of time, or walking upstairs can cause abdominal pain. Your body needs time to adjust to having a smaller tummy area. You should allow yourself to focus on rest and healing and arrange help with household chores and childcare.

Some patients feel shooting pains in their abdomen when they go back to more rigorous physical activity after six to eight weeks. This is because their body is adapting to its new shape whilst using their abdominal muscles. It’s advisable to slowly build up to your workout instead of jumping straight back in.

If you opt for a mini tummy tuck you can expect to experience much less pain and for the pain to last a shorter period of time. Many patients go back to their normal activities in a week or so and feel very little pain.

What does tummy tuck pain feel like and how to manage it?

Tummy tuck pain may feel like your stomach is being pulled when you stand up straight. It is most painful in the first few days after surgery.

You can take pain medication to control the pain. Your surgeon may prescribe pain medication to manage the worst pain, typically felt in the first three days after surgery. After this when your pain becomes more manageable, you can switch to over-the-counter pain relief to keep your discomfort tolerable. It’s important to take pain medications exactly as prescribed by your surgeon.

Alternatively, your surgeon may offer you a pain reliever that is injected directly into your abdominal muscles during surgery and can subside pain for up to 72 hours after surgery.

The skin on your stomach may be numb for a few months to years. The feeling will return slowly, but a small area on your lower stomach may remain numb.

You may also experience swelling for up to three months after a tummy tuck.

Can a tummy tuck cause back pain?

Back pain can occur in patients who have had a tummy tuck, but this is not the norm. Abdominal pain can be caused due to surgery changing the posture of your lower spine which can result in a strain on nearby ligaments and muscles.

Some patients who feel that their stomach is being pulled when they stand up straight, may remain in a more hunched-up position and this can cause back pain to develop.

Interestingly, a recent study in 2018, found that a tummy tuck can improve back pain and urinary incontinence after childbearing. It is thought that these functional improvements may be because strength and stability in the abdominal and pelvic region are restored as the operation incorporates repair of the abdominal muscle separation that can occur after pregnancy.

In summary

  • Tummy tucks flatten and shape your stomach.
  • A tummy tuck can be painful for up to a week after surgery.
  • The amount of pain will depend on the exact tummy tuck procedure you have.
  • Mini tummy tucks present the least pain whilst extended tummy tucks have the most pain.
  • Tummy tuck pain can be managed by pain medications prescribed by your surgeon.
  • Sometimes pain medication is injected into your abdominal muscles during surgery and lasts for up to 72 hours.
  • A tummy tuck can cause back pain but this is not the norm.
  • Back pain and urinary incontinence can be improved with tummy tuck surgery after childbearing.

Tummy tuck with Ramsay Health Care

Ramsay Health Care works with experienced and skilled cosmetic surgeons who regularly perform the popular tummy tuck procedure. They are GMC-registered, included on the GMC Specialist Register for plastic surgery, and specialised in abdominoplasty operations.

Our cosmetic surgeons understand that you may be worried about the pain associated with a tummy tuck. They will discuss with you your pain relief options. You can ask them any questions about the procedure or any other concerns you may have.

If you want to learn more about having a tummy tuck with Ramsay Health Care, you can find all the information you need on the procedure, costs, recovery, and aftercare here.

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