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Tummy Tuck, Body

Tummy Tuck Timing, Benefits, and Dr. Fan's Expert Advice

A combination of diet, regular physical activity, and lifestyle modifications can undoubtedly reduce belly fat. Yet, it's not just about the fat, right? You also have to deal with a flabby abdomen and a stubborn bulge that just won't budge.

While these issues are common following childbirth and massive weight loss, genetics can also be a significant factor. Some individuals have inherently weak abdominal muscles that may predispose them to have bulging bellies.

A tummy tuck can address the aforementioned issues and help you regain your once firm and flat midsection. Also known as abdominoplasty, tummy tucks target what your exercise and weight loss efforts cannot address. They repair weakened abdominal muscles and get rid of flabby skin.

This post is a helpful guide for men and women who have been considering a tummy tuck but would love to know more about the details of the procedure before committing to surgery. Here's to informed tummy tuck decisions!

Is a Tummy Tuck Right For Me?

Following a tummy tuck, you'll notice dramatic improvements in the overall appearance and profile of your abdomen. Chances are, it'll probably boost your confidence and overall well-being, too.

Are You a Good Tummy Tuck Candidate?

At our San Francisco plastic surgery practice, we're often asked what makes a good tummy tuck candidate. On the whole, a tummy tuck suits you best if you are bothered by the appearance of bulging abdominal contours due to hanging skin and weakened muscles. Often, this a result of pregnancy, aging, or weight loss.

The best tummy tuck outcomes can be accomplished if you can commit to a lifestyle of consistent physical activity (with emphasis on weight control to maintain your wonderful tummy tuck results) and healthy food choices.

A good tummy candidate has a stable body weight, doesn't smoke (nicotine significantly increases the risk of healing problems), and should have realistic expectations of the outcomes. Results vary depending on the degree of excess skin and lax muscles.

For best results, you should also be able to devote a significant amount of time to recovery. Also, for women, it's best if you've made a decision about future pregnancies. While tummy tuck results are lasting, pregnancies can undo what a tummy tuck can achieve for your body shape.

For patients with a hanging pannus or "apron" of skin (common in formerly obese individuals who lost significant amounts of body weight, a panniculectomy is recommended to remove excess skin.

When is a Tummy Tuck Not a Good Idea?

A tummy tuck is a body contouring procedure, not a treatment for obesity or weight loss. You are a not a good candidate if you've been struggling with obesity or excess body weight. In this situation, you may become a candidate for a tummy tuck after you get rid of the extra pounds first through diet and exercise.

And then there's the middle-aged guy with the potbelly. The appearance of this bulging stomach has nothing to do with excess abdominal skin or weakened muscles but rather large amounts of fat around the gut beneath the abdominal wall muscles (called intraperitoneal fat). A lifestyle overhaul is a good idea at this point, rather than going straight to a tummy tuck surgeon.

Let's Talk Benefits! What Can a Tummy Tuck Do for You?

Expect a flat and well-toned stomach following a tummy tuck. However, if you have a substantial amount of excess belly fat, pairing a tummy tuck with liposuction will deliver the best body-contouring results.

Many patients also noticed better posture post-tummy tuck courtesy of tightened abdominal muscles. This may lead to less back pain.

In terms of trade-offs, tummy tucks result in a lower abdominal bikini line scar. The scar will fade significantly with time, but like all scars, it is permanent. There is also a significant amount of recovery time.

How About the Risks?

The tummy tuck is one of our most popular procedures. Tummy tucks are generally considered safe, but like all surgical procedures, it does carry a degree of risk.

Some of the potential risks of a tummy tuck surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Altered Sensation
  • Seroma (collection of excess fluid in the surgical site)
  • Blood Clots
  • Fat Embolism
  • Allergic Reactions

Fortunately, the chances of significant complications following a tummy tuck are extremely low. The more obvious risk is getting unsatisfactory results. Both health and result risks are fundamental reasons you should carefully choose a qualified and skilled plastic surgeon.

Tummy Tuck Variations

There are several variations of the Tummy Tuck procedure. These are three of the most popular:

The Full Tummy Tuck

A full tummy tuck is often referred to as just a "tummy tuck", or "lipoabdominoplasty" when it is combined with abdominal liposuction. This is the most frequently performed abdominal contouring procedure. For many patients, it represents the gold standard of belly transformation.

The Mini Tummy Tuck

Patients who best qualify for mini tummy tuck operations typically have good upper abdominal skin and muscle tone. Problem areas are limited to the lower abdomen and may include a small amount of loose skin and excessive fat centralized below the belly button.

The Extended Tummy Tuck

An extended tummy tuck variation can be further categorized into fleur-de-lis abdominoplasty, a belt lipectomy, and a three-quarter tummy tuck.

A fleur-de-lis is recommended if you have horizontal abdominal laxity. While a standard tummy tuck works with excess skin rolls from hip to hip (vertical laxity), the fleur-de-lis creates a midline incision to improve the appearance of the upper abdomen and the lateral flanks. This is often done in patients who had massive weight loss and are struggling with unsightly flanks.

Meanwhile, a belt lipectomy extends the incision all the way around the back to also improve the appearance of love handles, hips, thighs, and buttocks. Think of it as a body lift.

A three-quarter tummy tuck is another variation of the extended tummy tuck performed via a low hip to hip incision, extending to at least three-quarters of the trunk (hence the name) to mainly address loose skin in the lateral flanks and love handles.

Tummy Tuck Recovery: What It's Like?

Expect to be sore and somewhat uncomfortable during the first week or so after surgery.

You will likely want to spend the first few days resting quietly at home. However, you will be instructed to get up and walk around the house every few hours to maintain healthy circulation.

Because of the large amount of skin removed, your abdomen will feel tight and sore and you will initially walk in a bent-over position. It may take 5 to 7 days for you to stand completely upright.

Temporary swelling, bruising, numbness, and tingling are also expected after surgery. One or two small drainage tubes, if used, are removed in about 1-2 weeks. A compression garment must be worn over the surgical site for about six weeks. This will help reduce the swelling and facilitate faster healing.

Furthermore, you will need to refrain from strenuous activity including lifting more than 20 pounds for about six weeks (relax on the kettlebells or skip the weight room). Most patients return to work within 2-4 weeks, although recovery time may vary depending on your age, genetics, skin quality, technique used, and occupation.

Childcare is a common concern for many of our post-tummy tuck patients. Because of the limits placed on lifting or straining, you will need to have help with small children for the first few weeks after surgery. Lifting even a 25-pound child too soon after your tummy tuck can jeopardize your results by stretching the incision site. This could lead to prolonged bleeding or swelling.

Most people feel completely healthy within 3 to 6 months.

Can I Opt for Liposuction Instead?

Some patients are good candidates for liposuction alone, but many (if not most) mothers are much better suited for a tummy tuck.

During pregnancy, the abdominal skin is stretched resulting in loose skin and stretch marks, while the abdominal muscles are stretched resulting in bulging.

Liposuction alone can remove unwanted tummy fat but cannot tighten loose skin or weakened abdominal muscles, which is the main problem for most mothers with bulging tummies.

Be wary of anyone suggesting that a laser or other "fancy" technology (eg. Smartlipo, laser assisted liposuction, nonsurgical skin tightening treatments, etc.) can eliminate the need for a tummy tuck. This is rarely true, and we frequently see patients who have been disappointed by these technologies ending up at our office in need of a tummy tuck or, worse yet, more extensive reconstruction for residual loose skin, cobblestoning, or other cosmetic deformities. It has been suggested that a laser can help with skin tightening after liposuction, but scientific evidence is lacking. Our advice to you - don't believe the hype that Smartlipo is a quicker, safer alternative to a tummy tuck or that it can help you avoid a tummy tuck or lift. Because it's rarely true.

For women with loose skin and weakened abdominal muscles, a tummy tuck is the only solution for a flatter, firmer stomach.

Quick Tummy Tuck Figures

  • The tummy tuck remains one of the most frequently performed cosmetic surgery procedures. The number of tummy tuck surgeries performed recently went up by 5 percent from the previous year.
  • A tummy tuck surgery can last between 2 to 5 hours.
  • The average recovery period is between 2 to 4 weeks.

The Right Choice For You

Choosing to have a tummy tuck is not something to be taken lightly. There are many important factors to consider and critical decisions to be made. Finding a plastic surgeon who is equal parts qualified and skillful is a top priority. This surgeon can help you make well-informed decisions and choose the best tummy tuck variations to safely deliver the kind of results you want.

You can read more about finding and evaluating a qualified plastic surgeon here.

If you would like to explore tummy tucks a little more, we recommend scheduling a consultation with Dr. Fan today. He will answer your questions and give you expert advice based on your anatomy, current physical health, and your desired results.

You can also take advantage of our free online self-assessment to see if you are a good candidate for tummy tuck surgery.

Are You Ready for Plastic Surgery? Click Here to Find Out


About the Author

Dr. Larry Fan is a Harvard educated, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in San Francisco, CA. He is a Master Artist who is known for creating beautiful, stunning, and natural results. Dr. Fan has been named One of America's Top Plastic Surgeons for the past 10 years running and has received several national awards for his work in Plastic Surgery. He has successfully performed more than 10,000 cosmetic procedures of the face, breasts, and body over a 20 year period. Dr Fan has been an invited speaker at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons, and has been featured in national media outlets such as CNN, NBC, and ABC.

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