American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

What is it like to get a tummy tuck?

Many individuals who have experienced weight changes, given birth or simply developed a bit of a "spare tire" often consider corrective measures beyond diet and exercise, as they are often not enough to achieve the results they want. A flatter, smoother-looking and more toned midsection can be achieved through an abdominoplasty or tummy tuck.

A tummy tuck is a popular cosmetic surgical procedure performed to remove excess skin and some fat, as well as tighten underlying abdominal muscles, to improve the overall appearance of the stomach. Per the latest statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the number of tummy tucks performed in the United States each year went up by 104 percent between 2000 and 2016.

Tummy tucks are especially popular as a component of a "mommy makeover" package tailored to women who have experienced either one particularly strenuous pregnancy and childbirth or multiple ones, as well as for men who have developed noticeable bellies over time due to some excess fat and weakened and/or permanently stretched out muscles and skin tissue.

A tummy tuck may also be appropriate to tone and recontour the mid-section if a patient experiences significant skin laxity after significant weight loss, whether due to natural bodily causes, diet and exercise improvements or after bariatric (weight loss assistance) surgery.

It is important for patients to be able to distinguish between a tummy tuck and liposuction procedure, as they each address distinct concerns. A tummy tuck alone cannot address significant fat deposits.

Liposuction is a common surgical procedure in which excess fat deposits are suctioned out of a localized section of the body through a slim hollow tube (known as a cannula), and remaining fat deposits may be carefully repositioned and reshaped to debulk and sculpt the area.

Liposuction may be performed as a standalone procedure, or as a part of other surgical procedures that require fat removal or transfer of some kind (such as breast augmentations and reductions, butt lifts, etc.). It does not address laxity in skin or muscles. A surgeon may recommend a liposuction, a tummy tuck, or both in the following scenarios:

  • If a patient has minimal laxity in the skin and muscle tissues, and only requires fat reduction in the abdominal area, liposuction may be all that is needed.
  • If a patient has moderate to severe laxity in the skin and muscles at the abdomen, but only a small amount of fat to be reduced, a tummy tuck alone may be appropriate.
  • If a patient wants to address skin and muscle laxity as well as reduce a significant amount of fat, liposuction may be incorporated into the tummy tuck procedure.

There are different forms of tummy tuck procedures that surgeons can perform. The methods employed will vary depending on each patient's concerns and desired goals, and will be discussed during a consultation.

For patients who only want to address their lower abdomen (below their belly button), a mini tummy tuck may be all that is required to achieve satisfactory results. Excess skin and fat and lax muscles may be corrected through an incision just above the bikini line. A mini tummy tuck is typically an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia.

A standard or full tummy tuck addresses the entire abdominal area's skin, muscles and fat. The surgical incision is made across the pelvic bone and should run below your underwear or bathing suit line. The belly button may be repositioned, and any stretch marks underneath the original one may be addressed.

An extended tummy tuck is typically performed on patients who would like to improve skin, fat and muscle in the lower abdomen as well as the lower back (i.e. to address love handles). The incision for this normally extends just above one hip to the other side, and should still be easy to conceal below the underwear or bathing suit line.

Some forms of extended tummy tucks, such as the REAL (Reconstructive Extended Abdominoplasty with Liposuction) tummy tuck that I perform, may involve a complete reconstruction of the abdominal wall to correct separated core muscles.

No matter which procedure and medical practice you choose, it is important to ensure that your plastic surgeon is certified by American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) and has extensive experience performing the procedures you would like to receive.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


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