Tummy Tuck Drains: Is It Better to Skip Them?

Midsection of then woman

Tummy tuck surgery is a popular procedure, addressing three common concerns all at once: loose skin, excess fat, and muscle laxity. The results are usually dramatic, with many patients reporting finally feeling more confident, fitting into their clothing more comfortably, and improved workouts after recovery.

The thought of dealing with drains after surgery often causes patients to hesitate, though. Are drains required after tummy tuck surgery? Can drainless tummy tucks be effective?

Drains vs. Drainless

Some doctors still perform the “traditional” tummy tuck technique, which involves drainage tubes during post-op healing. While the patient may get great results with either technique, it is important to think about reducing discomfort and minimizing tension on the incision as it heals. The biggest difference between “drainless” versus “traditional” is how the surgeon closes the skin flap at the end of surgery.

How Drains Work and Why They’re Used

The “traditional” tummy tuck technique has been sufficiently used for over 30 years. With this technique, a drainage tube is placed underneath the skin flap in between the skin and muscle tissue planes. These layers ultimately heal together over time.

However, fluid begins to secrete in between the 2 layers from friction when the patient moves or shifts. This excess fluid needs somewhere to go as the body creates too much to be reabsorbed. The drainage tube is placed in between the fat and muscle tissue planes for 7 to 14 days post-surgery to collect and help the body release this fluid while the 2 tissue layers heal. However, the layers are still healing after the drainage tubes are removed, thus leaving more risk for large build-up of fluid underneath the skin called a seroma.

Tummy tuck patients are 10% more likely to develop seroma when undergoing the “traditional” technique. The only way to remove this fluid is to aspirate with a large needle which can be very frightening and uncomfortable for the patient. The biggest drawback while healing from the “traditional” technique is dealing with a plastic tube poking out from a fresh incision while having to empty the cloudy, pinkish contents of the collection bulb several times per day, coupled with the fear of inadvertently pulling the tube out. Additionally, the patient must hide the drainage tube and collection bulb in their undergarments during recovery.

The Drainless Advantage

The “drainless” technique was created by a group of surgeons about 15 years ago when looking for a way to prevent seroma development and to keep the two tissue layers in place for added healing benefits. The technique has been adopted widely by surgeons who want to stay current and have fewer post-surgery complications.

The drainless tummy tuck technique provides advantages for the surgeon, patient, and caretakers. It has less than a 1% seroma rate and is much more comfortable for the patient.

Drainless advantages:

  • Lower risk of seroma
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Less discomfort
  • Cleaner
  • Finer scar line

Some patients ask if a drainless tummy tuck can create results that are as effective as a tummy tuck with drains. Take a look at our patients’ tummy tuck before and after pictures to see their exceptional results.

How the Drainless Technique Works

During the drainless technique, the surgeon sews the skin flap back to the muscle and fat layers with 20 to 25 extra dissolvable quilting sutures. This added step mitigates the amount of friction and sliding between the fat and muscle layers, therefore, preventing fluid creation. Because the flap of skin is secured with quilting stitches, it keeps in place with movement and the incision is subjected to less tension. This provides a better-looking scar. (Read our related blog post to learn more about post-tummy tuck scar care.)

To hear more about the drainless advantage please watch Dr. Wolfe’s thorough explanation on YouTube:

Benefits of a Drainless Procedure

Drainless tummy tuck patients experience more comfort without having to look after a drainage tube and fluid container during healing, especially if they’re recovering from other procedures, too, such as breast augmentation or other Mommy Makeover combinations. They are exposed to fewer bacteria as no foreign object is entering the fresh incision. Our surgeons also worry less about treating the patient for seroma, infection, and scar revisions with this simple technique.

Tummy tuck incision infographic

If you’re considering a tummy tuck and want to learn more about your options, please use our online form to request a consultation or call us at (303) 278-2600 to schedule an appointment.

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