Considering a Tummy Tuck? Here’s What You Need to Know

By Debbe Geiger
December 13, 2023
Lines are drawn on a person's stomach to indicate placement for tummy tuck

Sit-ups and crunches can strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles, but they can’t get rid of the belly fat and loose skin often responsible for a bulging belly. That’s the job of a tummy tuck. In addition to removing skin and fat, the procedure, also called an abdominoplasty, can repair weakened or separated abdominal muscles. If your goal is a flat, contoured abdomen, a tummy tuck may be the answer. Here, David Stepien, MD, a plastic surgeon at Duke Health who specializes in aesthetic surgery, answers frequently asked questions about the tummy tuck procedure.

What is a tummy tuck?

A tummy tuck is a surgical procedure that removes excess or loose skin and fat from your abdominal area. During the procedure, your surgeon also tightens the layer of tissue that holds your abdominal muscles in place. The goal of a tummy tuck is to improve the shape and function of your abdominal wall. It’s often performed after significant weight loss, pregnancy, or past abdominal surgeries. Liposuction can be performed during your tummy tuck to improve your results by contouring your abdomen and removing fat from your flanks or “love handle” area.

What is a mini tummy tuck?

A mini tummy tuck removes only a small amount of extra fat, skin, and tissue, usually under the belly button. In certain cases, we can repair the abdominal muscles through this approach. It may be recommended if you have a small amount of extra skin and your belly button is in a good position. It is not an option for everyone, but for the right person, it can make your abdomen appear flatter. Because less extra skin needs to be removed, it results in a smaller abdominal scar.

What is a panniculectomy and how is it different from a tummy tuck?

A panniculectomy only removes excess skin that hangs from the abdomen below the belly button. It does not reshape the abdomen or repair the muscles and is entirely limited to the fold area of your lower abdomen. It does not change the position of the belly button. A panniculectomy may be covered by insurance when the overhanging skin causes chafing, rashes, or other painful issues. A panniculectomy can be combined with a tummy tuck. In that case, your insurance may cover the panniculectomy, and you may be responsible for the cost of the muscle repair and abdominal recontouring needed to achieve the full results of a tummy tuck.

What are the risks associated with a tummy tuck?

All surgeries carry some risk of infection and bleeding. Following a tummy tuck, you may also experience pain and swelling, delayed healing around the incision, blood clots, and numbness in the area. Most tummy tucks leave a scar from hip to hip along the lower area of your abdomen, which is hidden by most clothing. In some people, the incision may heal slowly, which can result in widening or darkening of the scar. Your surgeon will work with you to get the best scar result possible. These risks will be discussed with you during your consultation with your surgeon.

How long does it take to recover from a tummy tuck?

Most people feel sore and tight for up to two weeks following the procedure. “It will feel like you’ve done about a million sit-ups after a tummy tuck, but the tradeoff is that you should look like you did a million sit-ups,” said Dr. Stepien. The pain and swelling should improve significantly in four weeks, but some swelling may be present for up to three months after surgery. You can return to normal daily activity in four weeks, but because we work so hard to repair your abdominal muscles, it is important to avoid core strength exercises like sit-ups, crunches, or squats for at least six weeks.

When can I sleep on my side after a tummy tuck?

You can sleep on your side right after the procedure. There are no sleeping restrictions.

How long after a tummy tuck can I lie flat on my back?

After a tummy tuck, you can lie flat as soon as you’re comfortable doing so.

How long will a tummy tuck last?

That all depends on you. While the results of a tummy tuck should be permanent, significant weight gain or loss can change your appearance. You can make the results of your tummy tuck last by eating healthy and exercising regularly.

Is a tummy tuck covered by insurance?

A tummy tuck is considered a cosmetic procedure, which is not covered by insurance. Our financial counselors will work with you to determine your financial options.

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