A tummy tuck is a procedure that can help to tighten or remove excess skin from your abdomen. Depending on the results you’re looking for, there may be alternative procedures that better suit your needs.

A tummy tuck, also known as an abdominoplasty, is a major cosmetic surgery that involves removing excess skin around the lower stomach. It also can involve sewing abdominal muscles (abs) back together. Most of the time, the goal is to slim and tighten the midsection.

People usually opt to get this procedure when they’ve lost a lot of weight, whether following pregnancy or due to diet or exercise, for example. The extra skin may be challenging to get rid of without surgical intervention.

Here’s what to else to know about this popular operation, including how it’s performed, the recovery process, and potential risks.

People typically choose to get a tummy tuck for cosmetic reasons, including to:

  • tighten stretched out skin
  • smooth and flatten the lower abdominal section

It’s especially helpful when you can’t restore skin and muscle tone with diet and exercise alone. Sometimes, after extensive weight loss or pregnancy, the skin or muscle can’t easily snap back into its former shape.

It also may come with some health benefits, including:

  • preventing skin rashes and infections that can occur under folds of skin
  • improving one’s confidence

For more extensive skin folds, however, a medical procedure called a panniculectomy may be required (more on this later).

There are a few common variations of the classic tummy tuck, including:

  • Extended tummy tuck: The incision of an extended tummy tuck stretches from the hips to the back. This tightens the entire waistline. By contrast, a typical tummy tuck incision extends from hip to hip below the belly button.
  • Mini tummy tuck: Mini or partial tummy tucks are done with much smaller cuts on your lower abdomen. Rather than extending hip to hip, the surgery targets a smaller area below your belly button.
  • Reverse tummy tuck: Reverse tummy tucks are focused on the upper, rather than lower, abdomen. While a traditional tummy tuck typically involves removing skin below the belly button, reverse tummy tucks involve removing the skin above it.

A tummy tuck is typically done in a hospital operating room. Beforehand, you’ll be put into general anesthesia so that you remain asleep and won’t feel pain.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. The surgeon will make an incision across your stomach, just above the pubic bone. Then they’ll remove excess fatty tissue and stretched out skin from the lower and mid sections of your abdomen.
  2. In some cases, they’ll also tighten your abs with sutures.
  3. In extended surgeries, the surgeon will also remove fat and skin from the sides of the abdomen.
  4. The surgeon will then use stitches to close the area back up. Sometimes, tubes will be inserted into the impacted region to help drain fluid.
  5. A large bandage will be placed on the area.

Less extensive tummy tucks may be able to be done by using an endoscope. This is a small camera that can be inserted through a much smaller cut to perform surgery. This approach just tightens the muscle below the skin, so it may not be very effective for those with a lot of excess skin.

In the consultations preceding your tummy tuck, you may need to:

  • undergo lab testing
  • complete a medical evaluation
  • stop smoking, if you smoke (as recommended by your healthcare professional)
  • stop taking certain supplements and medication, including blood thinners like aspirin and ibuprofen

On the day of the operation, you’ll need to avoid eating and drinking several hours beforehand. Your surgeon will give you an exact timeline to follow.

Since you’ll be put under general anesthesia, plan to have someone drop you off before the procedure and pick you up after the procedure.

Most of the time, you can return home the same day as your procedure. You’ll likely experience some pain and discomfort in the days that follow. Your care team will prescribe pain medication to manage it.

During recovery, plan to get plenty of rest. To reduce pressure on your wounds, it may be beneficial to lie with your legs and hips bent.

Your surgeon will assist you with fitting an elastic support to your midsection, similar to a girdle, to aid in your recovery. This will help to manage swelling, which can take up to 6 months to fully resolve.

You may be sent home with drainage tubes inserted, which you’ll need to regularly empty them and take note of what comes out. Your surgeon will give you a time frame for how long the tubes need to be in place, but this typically ranges from a few days to several weeks.

You’ll need to return to the surgeon’s office for checkups, including removing the bandages, stitches, and drainage tubes.

Your recovery time can vary based on several factors like age, health, and the type of tummy tuck you get. But in general, you can expect be more or less back to you usual activities after about 8 weeks.

After a tummy tuck, the American Board of Plastic Surgery recommends:

  • avoiding driving, cooking, running errands, and other tasks until the 2- to 3-week mark
  • avoiding exercising or strenuous activity for about 4 to 6 weeks
  • waiting about 2 to 4 weeks before returning to work

Over the next year, your scars will lighten. Just try to keep them out of the sun to avoid worsening them. If the area is going to be exposed, it’s recommended that you apply sunscreen.

A tummy tuck can effectively remove excess skin and fat, but keep in mind that it’s not a weight loss procedure.

After a tummy tuck, the skin and muscle in your abdominal area are permanently altered. Still, if you gain a lot of weight, your remaining skin may stretch again. If you plan to lose additional weight or become pregnant in the future, experts advise postponing your tummy tuck until afterward.

Technically, a tummy tuck isn’t intended to remove stretch marks. But some of them may be removed when the surgeon takes out areas of excess skin. If you’re looking to diminish the appearance of stretch marks entirely, you may want to consider other treatments like laser therapy.

Every surgery comes with some risks. The ones associated with tummy tucks include:

  • extensive scarring
  • blood clot conditions, including deep vein thrombosis
  • slow wound healing or infections
  • reactions to anesthetics or other medications
  • nerve damage to your stomach
  • fluid buildup (seroma)
  • cardiac or pulmonary risks
  • dying off of deep fatty tissue (fat necrosis)
  • asymmetric or undesirable results
  • the need for follow-up procedures

Depending on the effectiveness of the surgery and the results you’re looking for, you may also need additional follow-up surgeries.

Alternatives to a tummy tuck include:

  • Panniculectomy: Unlike a tummy tuck, this procedure is considered medically necessary. Panniculectomies may be required when someone loses a large amount of weight, resulting in a lot of excess skin that could otherwise be vulnerable to serious infections or other issues.
  • Liposuction: While tummy tucks are focused on removing excess skin, liposuction involves removing extra fat from the hips, thighs, butt, abs, arms, neck, or back. In some cases, tummy tucks and liposuction are performed at the same time. If you don’t have much extra skin, liposuction may be a better option.
  • Ultrasound or Radiofrequency (RF): These noninvasive cosmetic procedures tighten skin with help from RF or ultrasound technology. They’re also used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Results tend to be more subtle than those of a tummy tuck, but the procedure is less invasive and requires little down time for recovery.

How much does a tummy tuck cost?

On average, a tummy tuck in the United States costs about $6,154, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. This figure doesn’t include fees related to anesthesia, the operating room, or other expenses. Tummy tucks generally aren’t covered by insurance.

How long does a tummy tuck last?

Tummy tucks are technically permanent, meaning that the skin and muscle are permanently affected. However, if you gain a lot of weight, the remaining skin may stretch again. That’s why it’s recommended to delay surgery if you’re planning to get pregnant in the future.

What are the main disadvantages?

A tummy tuck is a major operation that comes with some potentially serious risks, like blood clots, infections, or reactions to anesthetics. It also has a significant recovery period of about 8 weeks.

It also can’t remove excess fat. And while the effects permanent, if you gain weight in the future, you may experience more excess skin.

The tummy tuck is a common procedure that involves removing excess skin and sometimes tightening muscle below the belly button.

If you’re considering a tummy tuck, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional about the results you’re looking for. They can help you determine whether a tummy tuck will be a good fit or recommend alternatives.