Managing Pain After a Tummy Tuck Surgery

Abdominoplasty, also known as a tummy tuck, is a cosmetic surgical procedure that flattens the abdomen by removing excess fat and skin and tightening the underlying muscle. Most people recover within several weeks. You may experience swelling and moderate pain during your post-operative recovery, both due to the procedure itself and because of movements you make while your incision is healing. You can get through this period more comfortably by trying several strategies for managing the pain after a tummy tuck.

A woman laying in a hospital bed
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Lifestyle Management

As you are recovering from your surgery, there are practical things that you can do during the first few months to prevent pain from starting and to reduce your pain if you have any.

  • Maintain physical activity: As you recover, you should continue to carry out simple day-to-day tasks and regularly get up and walk around your home. This is recommended to reduce your risk of developing harmful blood clots, and it also prevents you from remaining in one position for too long, which can make it painful when you finally get up and move.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise: As you are recovering and your wounds are healing, you should not put a strain on your incisions by engaging in strenuous activity or lifting heavy objects for at least six weeks or until you get the green light from your healthcare provider. If you would like to begin or get back to challenging exercises once you are fully recovered, it is a good idea to maintain some level of fitness by walking for exercise throughout your recovery period.
  • Don't smoke: To enhance the healing process, you should avoid the use of tobacco. Nicotine severely compromises the body’s ability to heal. It causes blood vessels to narrow, making the delivery of oxygen to the skin cells at the incision site more difficult, ultimately delaying the healing process.
  • Avoid constipation: You may be constipated if you are not eating due to nausea or fatigue. Narcotic pain medications also cause constipation, which eventually leads to abdominal pain. Try to eat food that is high in fiber and drink ample amounts of fluid to avoid constipation. If nausea or constipation are persistent, you may need to take over-the-counter or prescription medication.

Pain Management

Often, tummy tuck procedures include injection of pain medications into the area around the sensory nerves, resulting in a nerve block. This pre-emptive measure has been shown to reduce postoperative pain. However, if you experience postoperative pain, you may need treatment as you recover from your tummy tuck surgery. Options include:

  1. Over-the-counter medication: Many surgeons recommend taking ibuprofen or naproxen 24 to 48 hours after the procedure if there is no evidence of bleeding. NSAIDS can decrease the swelling and offer pain relief which can allow patients to stop narcotics earlier resulting in fewer side effects from those drugs.
  • Prescription medications: Long-acting narcotic pain medications are often prescribed because they do not cause bleeding. However, at low doses, narcotics can cause constipation; at high doses, they can cause breathing and heart problems, as well as addiction risk.
  • Pain pump: If you have severe nausea and cannot take medication by mouth, a pain pump—a device that delivers medication directly into the body via an inserted tube—can be another alternative. If your pain is severe, a pain pump can reduce your need for high doses of prescription narcotic pain medication.

Post-Operative Care

There are some routine things you need to take care of as you heal after your surgery, including wearing a compression garment, wound care, and drain care. Paying careful attention to these tasks can help reduce or prevent pain.

  • Compression garment: After surgery, you will be wrapped in or given a compression garment to wear. The compression garment will reduce swelling and support the abdomen, promoting proper healing. You should expect to wear this for two weeks to two months, depending on how quickly you are healing. Be sure to tell your medical team if the compression garment is causing any pain, as adjustments may be needed.
  • Incision care: Surgical dressings or bandages will be applied to your incision area. You will be given instructions about whether you should change these bandages and, if so, how often and how to do it. The most important aspect of your at-home wound care is that you keep your wound clean and remain gentle with it to avoid injury or bleeding. You will also be given instructions to be on the lookout for problems, such as pain from the incision site, swelling, redness, pus, warmth, or bleeding.
  • Drain care: After an abdominoplasty, temporary tubes to drain excess fluid from the surgical site will be inserted under your skin. They will be removed during the first week of recovery or when your healthcare provider is assured that the fluid no longer needs to be drained. If you experience pain at the drain site, or if you notice redness, swelling, or oozing of pus or blood, tell your healthcare provider's office.
  • Antibiotics: You may be given a prescription for medication to apply to your surgical site and/or to take orally to reduce your risk of developing a postoperative infection. An infection can cause pain, but more common symptoms of infection include fever, swelling, warmth, or pus.

A Word From Verywell

A tummy tuck is generally well tolerated. However, it is a surgical procedure, and there are some risks and side effects—including pain. If you are planning to have a tummy tuck, you should be prepared for one to two months of recovery, and you may experience pain throughout this time. In general, pain is mild to moderate after a tummy tuck. Rarely, pain or sensory abnormalities can persist for months or even years after the procedure. If your pain is severe or persistent, you should tell your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How painful is recovery from a tummy tuck?

    It varies from person to person. In general, the pain from a tummy tuck can be managed with over-the-counter medication, compression garments, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

    Typically, the surgeon injects a nerve block of pain medication into the transverse abdomens plane during a tummy tuck. This helps to minimize post-surgical pain. Once the block wears off, you may need prescription pain medication for a few days after the procedure. 

  • How long does it take to recover after a tummy tuck?

    Like most surgeries, it can take several weeks before you fully recover after a tummy tuck. How long recovery takes will depend on several factors, including your age, overall health, and the extent of the surgery—an extended tummy tuck will take longer to heal than a mini tuck. 

    Provided there are no complications, it should take no longer than eight weeks for you to feel like your old self again. 

  • How long will I be out of work after a tummy tuck?

    It depends on the type of work you do. People who have an office job can typically return to work after two weeks of recovery from a tummy tuck. However, if you have a more physical job, you may need at least six weeks before you can be cleared to return to work.

  • When can I start working out again after a tummy tuck?

    You should avoid strenuous activity for at least six weeks after having a tummy tuck. This includes serious workouts. To speed healing, you should remain active and once you feel up to it can go for short walks that become progressively longer. However, you shouldn't run or lift weights until your incision is fully healed and your surgeon clears you for exercise.

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