What is a tummy tuck?

Cosmetic surgeon Mr Simon Mackey explains how tummy tuck or adominoplasty surgery works, and discusses other important information about the procedure.

In tummy tuck or abdominoplasty surgery, excess skin and fat is removed from the lower abdomen. Spire patient Faith, pictured above, had a tummy tuck after having three children made her stomach feel loose; read her full patient experience of the procedure.

There are several types of tummy tuck but all involve making an incision from hip to hip, keeping the scar as low as possible and below the bikini line. For a full abdominoplasty there will also be a scar around the tummy-button as it is necessary to re-position this following removal of the excess tissue. The rectus (six-pack) muscles can be tightened up to produce a flatter tummy and help to improve the waistline.

Sometimes it may be possible to perform a mini-abdominoplasty, leaving the tummy-button alone and leaving a shorter scar along the bikini line.

For some people, a fleur-de-lis abdominoplasty may provide the best result. This leaves a scar along the bikini line and a vertical scar along the centre of the abdomen.

Other variations also include Brazillian-abdominoplasty, circumferential–abdominoplasty, and melon-slice abdominoplasty.  The precise technique should be discussed with your surgeon as there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Sometimes it may be safe to combine a tummy tuck with liposuction.

How long does the procedure take?

Depending on the type of abdominoplasty that is required, it usually takes between one and a half to three hours.

Tummy tucks are usually performed under a general anaesthetic (with the patient asleep).  After surgery the wound is usually closed with dissolving stitches, and dressed. 

Who can have an abdominoplasty/tummy tuck?

The best candidates are ladies or men who have excess skin or an abnormal shape in the lower abdomen. This may be as a result of having children or following significant weight loss.

Having a tummy tuck allows for the removal of skin that may have been stretched or scarred. It will also help people who suffer from irritation or an infection in the folds beneath this tissue. Correcting stretched abdominal muscles may also help to improve abdominal wall function, back pain and movement for some patients.

In order to see the best results from the surgery you should be relatively fit, healthy and ideally a non-smoker. If you’re taking steroids or blood thinners then you may be unsuitable for this type of surgery – but this should be discussed with your surgeon.

What are the risks?

Complications can arise with any surgery and it is important to be fully aware of this. The most common complication is scarring that may be asymmetrical. The scar could become stretched or red, raised and itchy, and may take up to 18 months to fully settle. Make sure you discuss the potential risks with your surgeon before you book for surgery.

Is it painful?

Any surgical procedure can be painful, but good pain relief and use of long-acting local anaesthetics make it manageable. Tightness can be uncomfortable, particularly after re-positioning the abdominal muscles, but this improves in the weeks following surgery.

What is the recovery period like?

Every surgeon’s post-operative regime is different and it is important to appreciate that this is guidance only. Everyone gets better at their own rate – some a little faster, some a little slower. You will generally be in hospital for one to two nights following surgery and I would encourage you to take a shower before leaving the hospital. Dress the wounds lightly with brown surgical tape for the first four weeks. 

You’ll need to wear a compression garment for six weeks to reduce swelling and minimise the chances of developing a build up of fluid. I would recommend taking two to three weeks off work and would expect patients to return to normal activities within six to eight weeks. With regards to driving, you need to feel confident that you are safely in control of your vehicle and able to perform an emergency stop. This is normally at least two to three weeks following surgery. 

Make sure you attend any post-operative check-ups arranged by your surgeon as these are important to get the best outcome from the surgery.

Will a tummy tuck help me lose weight?

To get the best results from abdominoplasty, you should be close to your ideal weight before proceeding with surgery. The only way to remove fat that lies within your abdominal cavity is through weight loss. This fat can make the tummy bulge even after abdominoplasty, and cannot be removed with any form of surgery.

Although you may lose several kilograms of abdominal fat and skin with a tummy tuck, it should not be regarded as a weight loss procedure. The goal of abdominoplasty is to improve the abdominal wall contour, appearance and function.

How long does the swelling last?

Swelling can take up to six to nine months to fully settle, but for most people has settled within around three months.

When can I begin exercising after a tummy tuck?

You will be relatively mobile within two to three days following surgery. I recommend that you avoid any strenuous activities for two to three weeks following surgery. From this point to around six weeks following surgery you can increase your level of activities, and return to your normal activities, including exercise, by six to eight weeks following surgery.

Any other advice?

Most surgeons will arrange to see you at least twice prior to surgery to allow ample opportunity to review your past medical history, discuss the limitations and complications of surgery, and to complete the consent process.

I would recommend that you check that your surgeon is on the GMC’s Specialist Register for Plastic Surgery, and is ideally a full member of BAPRAS (the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons), or BAAPS (the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons).


By Simon Mackey, consultant plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon at Spire Tunbridge Wells Hospital


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.