Tummy tucks are common in celebrity, influencer, and everyday circles. That’s because they offer the chance to drastically change the appearance of your abdomen without spending endless hours upon hours trying to discover a solution for stubborn fat and excess skin. Of course, as with all popular procedures, there are pros and cons associated with tummy tucks. To find out everything you need to know about tummy tucks, keep reading to learn what to three top surgeons have to say.
Meet the Expert
What Is a Tummy Tuck?
Also known as abdominoplasty, a tummy tuck is a procedure that removes extra skin and fat between the belly button and the pubic area.
“The underlying muscles are then tightened (diastasis repair), and the remaining skin is stretched down resulting in a much flatter and thinner abdomen,” explains board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City, David Shafer. By tightening the muscles and skin within the area, he says that surgeons can adequately cinch the waist, giving the patient more shape.
Of course, there are different variations of a tummy tuck. Where a classic tuck addresses excess skin and fat (as mentioned above), Shafer, who is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), says that a “Mini Tummy Tuck” solely addresses sagging skin and is often reserved for ultra-fit folks who have loose skin in the treatment area.
Benefits of Tummy Tucks
- Removes fat
- Removes excess skin
- Tightens skin
- Tightens muscles
- Removes stretch marks in the treatment area
- Adds shape to the waist
- Flattens stomach
When you read through all of these benefits, you might think that a tummy tuck is the ultimate weight loss surgery. Conversely, Shafer says that a tummy tuck patient should actually be close to their realistic weight.
“By realistic weight, I mean their baseline or everyday weight, not the weight that the chart says they should be, which is often unrealistic to obtain,” he explains. This is to say that the ideal patient is more so someone who has excess fat and sagging skin in the area (such as after childbirth) rather than excess fat everywhere. “For those patients that need more extreme weight loss, we sometimes refer them for lap band or gastric bypass,” he adds.
Back to the benefits, though. Aside from the visible benefits of improved abdominal tone, board-certified plastic surgeon Steven Williams says that, depending on the procedure's extent, tummy tuck patients may also experience a stronger core and better posture.
That said, he agrees with Shafer and admits that, in many cases, patients who benefit the most are mothers (after they’ve decided they won’t have any more children), as well as men and women who have lost a significant amount of weight and have excess skin.
How to Prepare For a Tummy Tuck
Tummy tuck procedures start with a consultation to determine that the patient is, in fact, a good candidate.
After the consultation, Shafer says that the surgeon will arrange a medical clearance appointment—either with the patient’s physician or one of the doctors within the surgeon’s practice—to ensure no contraindications.
“The medical clearance involves basic blood work, an EKG, and other tests if the patient has any pre-existing conditions,” he explains. “As this is an elective procedure, we want to make sure that [the patient] is completely optimized for surgery.”
Once approved, the patient will form an anesthesia plan with the surgeon’s anesthesiologists. “Most patients have a light general anesthesia, but we also often perform tummy tuck under spinal anesthesia,” Shafer shares.
Beyond the in-office preparation, Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon Suzanne Trott emphasizes the importance of focusing on diet leading up to the procedure.
“I tell my patients to start a low residue diet [i.e., a low-fiber diet geared toward promoting fewer bowel movements] a couple of days beforehand and to start taking a laxative and stool softener two days before (and to keep taking it until they don't need it anymore,” she shares.
Finally, you want to ensure you have someone to pick you up from the procedure and help you with any post-op care, as it will take a few weeks.
What to Expect During a Tummy Tuck
Depending on where you’re getting your tummy tuck performed, you can expect either a surgical office or hospital setting. Before the tuck begins, the patient will be put on an IV and under anesthesia. As a result, the patient typically doesn’t feel anything during the actual process, which takes between two to three hours.
“After the procedure, the patient is awoken from anesthesia and taken to the recovery room,” Shafer says, noting that they’ll be monitored there overnight and then, so long as no negative side effects arise, they’ll be sent on their merry, tucked way.
Tummy Tucks vs. Liposuction
Tummy tucks and liposuction both address fat, which often leads to them getting mixed up. “While tummy tucks and liposuction address some of the same issues like abdominal wall and trunk contour, they deal with different parts of the overall anatomy,” Williams, who is also an ASPS member, says. “In general, a tummy tuck is a much more powerful operation for trunk contour because it also addresses the abdominal wall muscles, any loose skin, and fat. Whereas liposuction focuses only on the improvement of the trunk contour by reducing fat.”
As different as the two procedures are, Shafer says he regularly uses them hand-in-hand.
“[I often accompany tummy tucks with] liposuction on the flanks and lower back for an overall 360 enhancement to the torso,” he shares, noting that when a tummy tuck is also combined with breast rejuvenation, they typically refer to it as a “Mommy Makeover.”
Potential Side Effects
Given tummy tucks are surgical procedures, risks exist. “Any surgery, no matter how big or how small, has the risk of pain, bleeding, infection, and scar,” Stephens explains, noting that the vast majority of the time, these complications are sporadic, and patients do very well. “Additional complications to consider include undesirable cosmetic appearance and need for scar revision. You should discuss your risks with a board-certified plastic surgeon before undergoing this procedure.”
As far as specific side effects to be prepared for, Shafer points out that incision healing depends on the patient’s genetics, aftercare, and the surgeon's skill.
As a general rule of thumb, he says that recovery can be broken down into three phases, listed below.
- Phase I: The first few days following the procedure, the patient feels like they just got out of surgery (i.e., sore and fatigued). It’s normal to need help with daily activities, and the patient can expect to take medications (such as antibiotics and possible pain medications) throughout this time.
- Phase II: Two to three weeks after the procedure, swelling and bruising will dissipate, and the patient will get back to their daily life, excluding core exercises. During this time, the patient will go back to work (if they work, that is), as Shafer recommends waiting seven to 10 days following the procedure.
- Phase III: Two to three months after the procedure, any residual swelling will resolve itself, and the incision will begin to fade. It’s during this time that the patient can get back to their regular exercise regimen.
Like most cosmetic procedures, the cost of tummy tucks varies from city to city, surgeon to surgeon. “Cities with a higher cost of living will pay more than rural parts of the country with a lower cost of living, but the average surgeon fees for the procedure are around $6,000,” explains Williams, noting that other expenses may include anesthesia fees, hospital or surgical facility costs, medical tests, and medications.
When all of these costs add up, Shafer says that the bill could be between $10,000 and $40,000. “While payment is due upfront, there are financing options such as CareCredit, which is essentially a healthcare loan,” he shares. “However, my suggestion to patients is to only have the surgery if you can afford it. A tummy tuck is not covered by insurance, but if there is a hernia or other surgical condition, some of the fee or anesthesia costs may be covered if the patient has a good policy.”
While the cost is high, Shafer points out that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime procedure for most patients. That said, extreme weight gain or loss could lead to the need for a second tuck. Because of this, a healthy routine is necessary to maintain the results. “As with any plastic surgery procedure, the best results are maintained with regular exercise and good nutrition,” he says.
In terms of immediate tummy tuck aftercare, Williams says that most patients take between two to three weeks from work to fully recover (Shafer’s recommendation above was with WFH in mind). The reason Williams recommends more time is because liposuction often goes hand-in-hand with tummy tucks. “Tummy tucks may also involve drains and compression garments that help with the liposuction,” he says. “The period of time required to wear these garments varies on the amount of liposuction and the patient's overall recovery. The overall recovery from a tummy tuck in terms of scar maturation and final results is usually six months.”
The Final Takeaway
Tummy tucks are expensive but can be worth it for folks looking to change their abdomen's appearance drastically. While most beneficial for those close to their baseline weight, anyone who gets a tummy tuck can see a noticeable change. “A tummy tuck is for people who are already taking care of themselves and are not overweight, so they should not have to change their lifestyle,” Trott explains. “If an overweight person gets a tummy tuck, this is an opportunity to get a jumpstart on changing your lifestyle, eat better, and work out when you can.”