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The Truth about Tummy Tuck Recovery: Does it hurt, really? What are the advantages of Exparel?

As Patient Counselors, Carrie and I have listened to patients before surgery and after recovery, lead patients to push through their fears, and have even recovered from Tummy Tuck first hand. We meet with women daily who want to eliminate the sagging skin, protruding abdominal muscles, and reduce the amount of stretch marks left behind after pregnancy or weight loss. However, many patients have become so frightened by the perceived “painful” recovery that they postpone scheduling for months and sometimes years! Listen up, big mistake!!! Why put off the future of a sleek, flat, bikini-wearing, defined stomach for a few weeks of discomfort? Understanding the truth about pain, taking advantage of modern pain management, and setting yourself up with ample recovery time and support will make for a successful recovery.

Let’s talk about pain.
tummy pain

The pain during Tummy Tuck recovery does not outweigh the amazing results afterwards. Keep in mind, the human psyche is extremely masterful at dramatizing a painful recovery scene before we have experienced the event. The truth is, nothing about the Tummy Tuck recovery is excruciating.

The discomfort after a Tummy Tuck comes, not from the incision (which will actually be numb for some time), but from the muscle tightening. Patients find normal activities such as standing up straight, walking up stairs and getting out of a seated position or bed uncomfortable because the core muscles are sore after being sewn together from the breast bone to the pubic bone.

Think about it this way: A Tummy Tuck is basically military boot camp for the abdominal muscles. Those stubborn muscles loved the roominess of your loose abdomen. For about a week, they retaliate by acting sore and tired. Those muscles quickly become angry and fatigued from the layers of sutures placed to keep them tight. The muscles soreness diminishes after a week and becomes less at the forefront of the mind. Most women are walking upright and going about daily “to dos” after two weeks.

Patients go back to working out at 4-6 weeks post Tummy Tuck. Some report small muscle “zingers” with workouts or yoga, which is completely normal. However, we advise patients to go back to working out slowly and back off it it hurts. Many of our extremely active patients get back to working out sooner and report stronger core strength as an added benefit.

Exparel – a true game-changer in pain management.

In addition to prescribing the best oral pain medications available, Dr. Vath, Dr. Wolfe, and Dr. Steinwald have been offering Exparel for the past two years. Exparel is a non-narcotic based pain reliever that is injected directly into the tissue, fascia, and muscles during surgery. It is effective in managing pain for up to 72 hours post-op. exparel

Not only does Exparel help patients get through the first 72 hours post-op with greatly reduced discomfort, it is also great for patients who wish to limit the amount of narcotic pain meds they take. Oral pain relievers can cause extreme drowsiness, fatigue, nausea, and constipation in some patients. Our patients who opt to add Exparel to their procedure report a 50% reduction in narcotic pain medication consumption versus those who do not. Exparel adds $500 to the total surgical investment, and the patients who have used it feel it is well worth the cost.

Additional considerations for a smooth recovery.

Set yourself up for a for a two weeks of doing nothing but recovering. Carrie and I counsel patients on getting into the “recovery mindset.” Most of us modern women are busy and overscheduled. We do it all, from working, cooking, rearing children, exercising, and volunteer work. We like to think we are Super Human. This notion can make for a frustrating and uncomfortable recovery process because we aren’t able to keep up with the demands and responsibilities of ‘normal’ life during the first two post-surgery weeks. Sleeping a lot is normal (and encouraged!) during recovery. You shouldn’t be making any important decisions or responding to serious e-mail while on pain medication. Remind yourself that this is SURGERY and you need down time. You will feel better and your energy will come back in a few short weeks. However, you will not be able to run the household or your career by yourself during this time. Enlist your family and friends to help out with meals, cleaning, running errands, and watching the kids. You’ll be glad you asked for support.

Actual patient shown before and 5 months post-op

Actual patient shown before and 5 months post-op

Visit our Tummy Tuck gallery

Kari Roland
Patient Counselor to Dr. Vath
kari@denverccs.com


4 Responses to The Truth about Tummy Tuck Recovery: Does it hurt, really? What are the advantages of Exparel?

  • Sally Johnson says:

    As a nurse for over 44 years, I noted that patients with pain fell into two categories: those with a very high pain tolerance & those with a very low pain tolerance. There is no minor surgery. All surgery involves some degree of pain. A tummy tuck is a major procedure. Medals are not awarded to patients who do not take a reasonable amount of analgesic medication over the acute phase of their recovery. Expect some pain, but be nice to youtself. Take your meds, so you can get up & move to participate in your return to wellness.

    • BlogEditor says:

      Great points, Sally. We by no means were trying to downplay the discomfort involved with a tummy tuck, which is, as you pointed out, a major surgery. It is a fine line with the narcotic pain meds between staying on top of pain and possibly taking more than needed. That’s why we are so excited about the Exparel.


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