How to Reduce Swelling After a Tummy Tuck

close up photo of woman's torso

Following your tummy tuck surgery, it is likely you will experience some abdominal swelling. Don’t worry: this is a perfectly normal, natural, and common side-effect, and it’s completely temporary. But, while the swelling will subside with time, there are some steps you can take to help reduce swelling more quickly and to ensure a safe, complication-free recovery from your tummy tuck.

What Is a Tummy Tuck (Abdominoplasty)?

A tummy tuck, also known as abdominoplasty, is a cosmetic surgery procedure that results in a flat, toned abdomen through the removal of excess skin and fat, and the tightening of weak abdominal muscles.

A tummy tuck procedure can address a number of concerns, including excess weight and fat, in addition to stretch marks, which can be addressed with a tummy tuck if they occur below the navel. Candidates for a tummy tuck surgery may be those who have recently lost a substantial amount of weight (which can result in loose, excess skin) or those whose bodies have recently undergone other substantial changes, such as pregnancy and childbirth. It’s important to note that the procedure will not result in substantial weight loss.

Why Does Swelling Occur After a Tummy Tuck?

After a tummy tuck, like with all surgeries, your immune system’s healing response will kick in. As part of this recovery process, your body will send an influx of fluid and white blood cells to the “injury site” which, in this case, will be where your plastic surgeon has made small incisions in order to perform your tummy tuck procedure (it is likely you will experience some temporary bruising here, as well). In other words: post-operative swelling is a natural, important part of your body’s healing process. But it can be uncomfortable, and it will temporarily prevent you from showing off your new, shapely silhouette.

Fortunately, swelling is temporary. Once your body has been given the time and rest necessary to fully heal and recover from your tummy tuck procedure, the swelling will subside, allowing you to enjoy your toned, proportionate midsection.

How Long Does the Swelling Last?

Because a tummy tuck procedure is a fairly invasive surgery, you may notice swelling of your midsection for quite some time following your procedure. Typically, the most significant swelling will subside after two to three months, but some mild swelling may remain for up to a year and a half — though it will become gradually less apparent.

9 Tips for Reducing Swelling After a Tummy Tuck

While some swelling following your tummy tuck procedure is an inevitable part of your body’s healing process, there are some steps you can take to reduce swelling and to encourage your body to heal quickly and without any adverse side effects or complications.

surgeon marking incision points on person's stomach

1. Take the Time to Rest

After your abdominoplasty, it’s important to give your body time to heal and recover. Not only does this mean avoiding strenuous activity, such as intense cardiovascular exercise or weight training, following your surgery, but it’s also important to make sure you get enough sleep. Allowing your body to rest will keep your immune system strong, and allow it to focus on healing your midsection from your tummy tuck procedure.

2. Follow a Healthy Diet

You can help encourage your immune system to heal following your surgery by fuelling your body with healthy, nourishing foods. Opt for healthy foods that are high in protein, which will help your body to repair its tissues following your surgery, as well as foods that are high in vitamins C and A.

Try to eat meals that feature mainly lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables, and limit your intake of simple carbohydrates, as these types of foods can cause bloating and discomfort. It’s also important to ensure you’re getting adequate fiber, in order to maintain good digestion.

In addition, it’s best to avoid eating foods that may cause gastrointestinal distress or discomfort, such as foods that are high in fat and sugar, dairy products (if you are lactose intolerant), or foods that naturally cause gassiness, such as beans and foods that are high in starch.

3. Reduce Your Sodium Intake

Too much salt can cause bloating, which can cause discomfort and impede your body’s healing process. Try to eat foods that are low in sodium, and adjust the amount of salt you use to season your food when preparing meals at home.

4. Drink Lots of Water

Staying hydrated is key to encouraging your body to heal. Try to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate you.

5. Lightly Exercise

While strenuous exercise may interfere with your body’s natural healing process, it’s important to keep moving: light exercise stimulates blood flow and good circulation throughout your body, including to your abdomen, which encourages speedy healing. Try walking around the block or on a treadmill, or participating in gentle yoga classes (though, if you do this, be careful to avoid or modify any poses that may put a strain on your midsection as it heals).

6. Use a Compression Garment

A compression garment can help reduce swelling around your midsection, as it will limit the amount of fluid that can accumulate in the area. Your surgeon will advise on the best length of time for you to wear a compression garment following your surgery, but generally, one should be worn for around two weeks.

7. Take Prescribed Medication

After your tummy tuck procedure, your surgeon may recommend or prescribe medication that will help ease any swelling — or discomfort resulting from the swelling — after your surgery. Be sure to follow your surgeon’s instructions. Anti-inflammatories that are available over the counter, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) may be ideal. Some anti-inflammatory medication carries with it the risk of blood thinning, so it’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions, or contact the clinic if you have any questions or concerns about the medication you may wish to take.

8. Maintain Your Drainage Tubes

Drain tubes are medical devices that prevent fluids from accumulating. Your surgeon may recommend that you use drainage tubes for several days immediately following your abdominoplasty.

9. Show Up to All Scheduled Appointments

After your tummy tuck, your surgeon will set follow-up appointments with you, to ensure your body is healing properly and without any adverse side effects. It’s important to keep these appointments, as your surgeon will be able to detect any issues with your healing and recommend steps that can be taken to minimize complications and keep you on the right track.

by DR. STEPHEN MULHOLLAND

Dr. Stephen Mulholland has been practicing plastic surgery for over 20 years. He is one of Canada’s most renowned and best plastic surgeons in Toronto with his wealth of experience, artistry, and humbleness towards his patients.
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