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The Truth About Tummy Tuck Recovery: Does it really hurt?

As patient counselors at our plastic surgery centers in Denver and Golden, CO, Carrie and I have listened to many tummy tuck patients. We have talked with these patients before surgery and after recovery—and helped them push through their fears.

We meet with women daily who want to eliminate sagging skin and a protruding abdomen, and reduce the extent of stretch marks left behind after pregnancy or weight loss. However, many patients have become so frightened by the perceived “painful” recovery—that they end up postponing their procedure for months and sometimes years!

Listen up! Procrastination is a 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.

tummy pain

Let’s Talk About Pain

The pain during tummy tuck recovery does not outweigh the amazing results afterward. 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 soreness diminishes after a week and you start to think less and less about it. Most women are walking upright and going about daily activities after just 2 weeks.

Patients go back to working out at 4 to 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 if it hurts. Many of our extremely active patients get back to working out sooner and report stronger core strength as an added benefit.

A Game Changer in Pain Management

In addition to using a no-drain tummy tuck technique and prescribing the best oral pain medications available, Dr. Vath, Dr. Wolfe, and Dr. Steinwald offer EXPAREL® for long-lasting pain control. This non-narcotic, non-opioid pain reliever is injected directly into the abdominal 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 significantly reduced discomfort, it is also great for patients who wish to limit the amount of narcotic pain meds they need to 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 vs. 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.

And for a Smooth Recovery …

Set yourself up for 2 weeks of doing nothing but recovering. Carrie and I counsel patients about getting into the “recovery mindset.” Most of us modern women are busy and overscheduled. We do it all: From working, cooking, rearing children, exercising, to volunteer work. We like to think we are superhuman. 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 2 weeks post-surgery.

Your energy will return in a few short weeks. However, you will not be able to run the household or your career by yourself during this time.

Sleeping a lot is normal (and encouraged!) during recovery. You shouldn’t be making any important decisions or responding to serious emails while on pain medication. Remind yourself that you just had SURGERY and you need downtime. 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

To get an idea of the kind of results you can expect, take a look at real before-and-after photos of our tummy tuck patients.

Contact us online or call us at (720) 279-1926 (Golden, CO) or (303) 951-2100 (Denver, CO) to schedule a personal consultation. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and concerns regarding breast lifts or any other procedure.

Kari Roland
Patient counselor to Dr. Vath

43 Responses to The Truth About Tummy Tuck Recovery: Does it really hurt?

  • 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.

    • BlogEditor says:

      Hi Ali,
      I was in my mid-30s when I had my Mommy Makeover, however, we have performed tummy tucks on patients in their 60s and even into their mid-70s. As long as you are healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia for 2-2.5 hours, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have this procedure if your tummy is an area that bothers you.
      We are always happy to see you for a consultation to discuss the tummy tuck procedure in depth with you.

  • Raven says:

    I have a tummy tuck coming up August 20th why eye doctor Fosnot at PENN. I am 60 and I’ve had this hanging belly a fat and I mean pretty bad much worse than I’ve seen in any of your before pictures so I have more to take off I’m not looking forward to the pain and I’m not looking forward to the pills that do nothing for you but cause constipation and sleepiness and dizziness anything other than Tylenol with codeine which I take for spine degeneration disease is a lot for me to handle but I do get a lot of pain I have a low tolerance. I seem to get anxiety and panic. They plan on sending me home the same day is that normal

    • BlogEditor says:

      Hi Raven,

      I am hoping that was a typo and that your TT is NOT being performed by an eye doctor. In regards to your question, it is routine for TT to be performed as an outpatient procedure. This may change on a case-by-case basis depending on if the patient has a health history that would warrant an overnight hospital stay.

      As for as your concerns about pain meds, I urge you to discuss it with your Plastic Surgeon, as there are different things he/she can prescribe. I would also think about adding Exparel to your procedure.

      Best wishes for your procedure!

    • Mary scott says:

      Hi Raven,
      Hope it turned out well for you. I had it done 8/17 and so far I’m thrilled. My doc just met me on Sunday to pull the drainage tube and I am ever so thankful. He said most tummy tucks he removes 2-3 lbs of skin. He removed 6 1/2 POUNDS from me.

      I’m presently 64 and already looking forward to having my thighs done. I lost 75lbs and I just don’t think that much skin will tighten itself up.

  • vee dubois says:

    Hi I’m a 54 year old female and just got a TT in Seoul, Korea. I keep reading that recovery time is around 2 week and getting really discouraged by it. I’n 4 weeks post Op and still feel the muscles tightening and pain from that. It hurts when I get up from a chair, out of bed, and walking after sitting for a while. I hate this feeling and regret getting the TT as I was so active before… I worked out 6 days a week in the gym and follow a plant based Diet and a general fit person and this knocked me on my ass. Is it because of my age?
    I think you should post this for ladies that may be going through it cause I’m certain I’m not the only one out there.
    I had a full TT and lipo for the flanks and tightening.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      I’m sorry to hear that you are still having pain! 2 weeks is just an average that we tell folks as far as recovery. It’s not overly uncommon that you are still having pain at 4 weeks post-op, and it’s not because of your age – just some people recover more quickly than others. I know it’s especially frustrating when you are used to being active. Be patient.

  • Judy cipriano says:

    I had a tummy tuck roughly 14 yrs ago at age 52. To this y I still get very bad itching at times on my nearly invisible scar area. Also that tight pulling sensation. It come and goes. Could I have possible nerve damage. I have not been back for conceltaion.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Judy. There are several reasons why you may be experiencing discomfort in your abdominoplasty scar, though it is unusual to be experiencing discomfort this far out from your procedure. Nerves in the skin are always cut during an abdominoplasty, and most patients are numb for 12-18 months between the belly button and the incision. When sensation does return, some nerves may be trapped in the scar tissue and can remain irritate indefinitely. Alternately, robust scar formation like a hypertrophic scar or keloid may be uncomfortable. Finally, the scar may be adherent to the underlying muscle layer, and this can result in an uncomfortable sensation. Best bet is to come in for a consult when the quarantine ends.

  • N-NEED OFA Mommy Make-Over says:

    I just had my TT this past Saturday, April 25 in Daegu, South Korea. To start with – I’ve always had a very high pain tolerance, So when I say this wasn’t as bad as I was expecting post-op, I don’t want to downplay the uncomfortableness I was in for a day or so. With that being said, I was able to go on short walks around our neighborhood four days post-op without pain. The surgery went well and I have really not had any pain due to the surgery. I am in discomfort due to the compression garment I am wearing, which puts a good deal of pressure on my rib cage (which was specially measured and made for my body). I am swollen and bruised, which I anticipate to continue.

    Due to the local health situation, I am able to work from home, so this was a perfect time to have the procedure completed. So far, I am completely pleased, and would recommend it to anyone contemplating having it done!

  • Ashley Guccione says:

    I have a tummy tuck booked for the beginning of August but will only have 1 week of help with my 2 year old. We 1 week be enough time to decrease the pain & get back to basic level activists such as bending & standing to cook? Luckily she is 2 and can walk and climb on her own, but I will be primarily back with her after just a week. She will be in daycare during the day but I’ll have to drive to pick her up and drop her off to daycare and spend the evening with her. Also no I do not have additional help all I have is the 1 weeks help.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Ashley,

      You should be fine to care for your daughter afternoons/evenings one week post op. Just be prepared to get tired easily. as for driving her to and from daycare, that is fine provided you are not taking narcotic pain meds or muscle relaxers and your motion is not hindered by pain as to make driving unsafe (for example to be able to turn to check blind spots for lane changes, etc).

      Best of luck with your procedure!

  • Wendy says:

    I had a mommy makeover and am now 1 week post op. I don’t have much pain but I do however experience the most burning painful sensation just above my belly button at times, this comes and goes. Is this normal?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      While this is likely normal, we recommend that you reach out to your surgeon.

  • Sharell Hill says:

    I had a tummy tuck and Lopo May 2019 and the lips again November 27,2019. I’ve been feeling a tightness across my navel area. My stomach gets extremely tight when I drink something and eat . I can only do one or the other. I feel a hard lump in that area and it’s a little sore on the left side side. I’ve been having some constipation and it’s a must that I take meds to help that problem. When I drink water, my stomach seems to bulge and I feel the tightness and lumps.. What should I do? It’s been a year now.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hello. I am sorry that you are going through this. I do not think that this is necessarily related to your tummy tuck and I would advise that you start with an appointment with your primary care doc. Best of luck.

  • Steph says:

    Hi! I’m scheduled for a tummy tuck, lipo and fat transfer in August, my 44th birthday to myself. I’m not too concerned about the pain but more so if I’ll die during surgery. I’m overall healthy but boy I’m getting so much anxiety about this.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Congratulations on taking the plunge and scheduling your procedure. What a great birthday gift to yourself. It is very common to be nervous, but you’ll be so happy once you’ve recovered. Best of luck!

  • Catherine A Leo says:

    I’m going to be 63 and I’m scheduled for lipo and tt july 29th. I have copd and hypertension that I take medication for. I have been cleared fo r surgery by all my doctors. I am having day surgery but in the hospital because of my health history . My surgeon wanted to use experal but the hospital won’t allow it for cosmetic surgery. How bad is the pain to control? Worried about pain and my blood pressure.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Everyone’s pain tolerance is different, but with a combination of muscle relaxers and pain meds, most people manage very well.

      Good luck!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Hi Kari, i have a question. Well its been 3 months since my tummy tuck and everything has been great except for 2 days ago that i started to feel this burning sensation in one small area in my right side of my incision (about 3 inches wide). It hurts when i bend to pick something up and when i sit down. Its a scary burning sensation that makes me not want to sit for long periods or bend down at all, it sort off feels as if its opening up from the inside and i have to add pressure to stop the pain when it happens. Do you think its my nerves or perhaps i lifted something heavy and it opened up in the inside?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      It is very common to have nerve type pain in that area and at 3 months out the nerves are starting to wake up so patients often feel burning sensations. Sometimes taking some anti inflammatory medication can help on days that are worse than others. Gentle massage to that area might calm the nerves down quicker.

  • Stephanie says:

    Since I’m working from home now would I be ok getting a tt on a Saturday and be able to work on Monday? I’m not sure what the recovery will be like. I expect pain but will it be possible to write and attend virtual meetings?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      That is a little ambitious. With our patients who have a desk job we recommend that they take a week off. Depending on your pain tolerance and if you are able to work 1/2 days you MIGHT feel up to it by Thursday. If you are able to take the week, I would recommend it just to not push yourself too much.

  • Agnes says:

    Hi I had my TT over year ago, still having sensation on my right side where was the drain side, and also formed keloid in my belly and dark, is that normal? What should I do?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hello Agnes,
      It can take up to 18 months for sensation to return to what will be your new normal. As far as the keloid scarring goes, I would return to your plastic surgeon. He/She should be able to perform a scar revision to remove that. They should watch you carefully in the several months after the revision, potentially injecting the area with steroids to help prevent formation of another keloid.

  • Christy says:

    I am considering a TT but the surgeon warned that it could cause my back pain to be worse. I have suffered from back and neck pain for years. I had neck surgery last year (3 level dissectomy and fusion ) and I have several herniated discs in lower back , muscle and arthritis pain. Now I’m reading some articles that TT can actually help back pain. Which is it?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Christy,
      In my experience, patients’ back pain is often alleviated after a tummy tuck. For the first several weeks, back pain may be exacerbated while it will be difficult/painful to engage your core muscles, so you will rely on your back more. However, as your core continues to re-engage, you should notice an overall improvement in back pain.
      Best of luck with your procedure.

  • Connie Chase says:

    Hi there,

    I have a tummy tuck and thigh lift scheduled for September 29. After it was scheduled I had an MRI done on my shoulder and my doctor discovered I had a complete bicep rotator cuff tear so on August 13 I had surgery to repair it. I’ll be in a sling for 6 weeks and having PT appointments. Neither of the surgeons has told me not to have the TT or thigh lift on the scheduled date. What is your opinion, should I go ahead with the surgery or reschedule?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Personally, I feel that being in a sling and doing PT will make recovery more difficult than it needs to be. If it were me, I would reschedule.

      Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  • Tam Marshall says:

    I recently had a double mastectomy. I suppose getting a tummy tuck is similar to the reconstructive part of my surgery in which they used my stomach tissue. It has been a month and 11 days since my procedure and I am trying to deal with the frequent automatic tightening of my abdomen. When I walk it tightens, when I drink it tightens. Not sure how this will last. I’m a patient person but I’m also trying to figure out if this is normal and what I can do to help with the healing. Please advise if you can. Thank you,
    Uncomfortable TX teacher

    • KBlatherwick says:

      I’m sorry to hear what you have been through. What you are describing sounds very normal for your stage of healing. We would defer to the post-op instructions given by your surgeon, but in our practice, we recommend that patients do some light stretching over a yoga ball to help with the tight abdominal muscles. Best of luck in your healing.

  • Jennifer says:

    I’m in day 6 of my TT & lipo recovery. There is a lot of tightness and burning in my abdomen area as well as a feeling of motion in my stomach, is that normal? My back is also killing me, I use a walker to go back and forth to the bathroom and at times I start to cry because I hurt so much. How long is this going to last? I’m also swollen from surgery. How long are these side effects going to last.

    • KBlatherwick says:

      We’re sorry to hear that you are having such trouble. We always recommend that you follow up with your surgeon, however, what you are describing does all sound relatively normal. Most patients round the corner and start feeling significantly better at 7-10 days post-op. Swelling, however, can last for several months. Hopefully, you start feeling better soon.

  • Gloria says:

    I’m wanting to get a TT, I’m 64, hate pain, blood, needles ,the thought of getting cut, scares me. Just thinking about it makes me get dizzy. Will I die? What to do?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Gloria,

      Tummy Tuck surgery is a major operation, and needs to be respected as such, however it is a completely safe procedure given that you choose a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon who only uses Board Certified Anesthesiologists and has an accredited private operating facility OR operates out of a hospital. So many patients are very nervous, but we’ve never had one once recovered, say that they regretted doing it.

      Best of luck!

  • Tina Munro says:

    Hi Kara
    I’m 3 weeks in today and feeling really good. I am tired doing nothing but am getting stronger and feeling more like myself everyday. It really is the best gift I could of ever gave myself. My question to you is when I go to bed at night I wake up all hours of the night with burning sensation near my incision area. Could this be because my muscles are working harder to heal? It only seems to happens at night, is that normal?

    • KBlatherwick says:

      Hi Tina,

      That sounds completely normal. Likely because your muscles are relaxed while sleeping after being asked to engage all day (even though you’re taking it easy – we use our core for virtually everything). Nothing you are describing sounds alarming, of course, I must put the disclaimer that you should always check with your plastic surgeon on any concerns you have.

      Best of wishes on your continued healing!


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