Lean about exercises for each stage of tummy tuck recovery with our handy timeline. As a bonus, Dr. Beldholm also shares 10 exercise tips for tummy tuck patients.
Tummy tuck recovery timeline
So, what kind of exercise can I do after tummy tuck? That’s at the top of many patients minds, especially for women who lead active lifestyles.
There are different phases of healing after a tummy tuck that patients typically go through. Different recovery stages have different exercises that can aid in recovery.
Each type of tummy tuck is different, as we will discuss in more detail below. The following is a general guide that is designed to give you a sense of what recovery and exercise look like for most patients after abdominoplasty.
1-2 weeks post-op
Walking is highly beneficial at this stage. Advancements in science have helped doctors see that walking soon after a tummy tuck helps improve recovery. In fact, walking during the first 24 hours after surgery is commonly advised these days. You can stand up to walk every few hours for at least a few minutes at a time. With every day that passes, you will be able to walk more each day. For more information, don’t forget to read the tips below for more advice and benefits about walking after a tummy tuck.
2-4 weeks post-op
Continue walking once you reach the two-week mark, and proceed to walk more each day, as you have been doing. Patients can also add some light cycling (on a machine only) if you wish. You can even start to do some light daily activities if it is not too uncomfortable, but no heavy lifting. For example, lifting heavy groceries 14 days after surgery is not a good idea. Remember, you are not ready for light exercise just yet. If you had muscle repair, avoid core exercises for now.
4-6 weeks post-op
Now that you are on your way to healing nicely, you may resume light exercise. This is a good time to start introducing low impact aerobics, such as a rowing machine. Longer walks are now possible, so go ahead and enjoy the outdoors. Lifting light weights for both arms and legs can also be added to your exercise routine. Remember to take it slow. You are still healing. You can push yourself a bit more each day, but don’t go overboard. If you feel pain, stop. Wound breakdown is still possible at this stage. Stretching and intense exercise are not advised. If you had muscle repair, you may be able to begin core exercises during weeks 4-6.
6-8 weeks post-op
Hooray! Most patients can get back to a full exercise routine at this stage. Note that body lift patients and certain extensive tummy tucks (ex. fleur de lis abdominoplasty) may need another couple of weeks to reach this stage. Regardless of the type of tummy tuck you had, this is not the time to start a brand new or vigorous exercise program. Basic full exercise is all that is needed in this phase of recovery. At the 7-week mark, you will still have marked swelling, but you should feel much more comfortable.
8+ weeks after surgery
You should be feeling pretty good by now. Now you may introduce more advanced exercise. Don’t push too hard though. It’s too early for ‘extreme’ exercise programs. When in doubt, consult with your surgeon. As more weeks pass, you will be able to do a bit more exercise at a time. Eventually, you will get back to your normal exercise routine, free of restrictions.
Download our short guide: “Top 10 exercise tips & advice after abdominoplasty”
Top 10 exercise tips & advice after a tummy tuck
Dr. Beldholm shares 10 recommendations for exercise after tummy tuck surgery.
1. When can I start exercising after tummy tuck?
The time it takes to return to a full exercise program varies by the type of surgery. On average, 4-6 weeks is a good rough estimate to resume light exercise. At 6-8 weeks, most patients can resume a normal exercise routine. Again, this can take a few more weeks for extensive abdominoplasty like body lifts and fleur de lis tummy tucks.
There are many different kinds of tummy tucks. Each one has a different healing time. For example, a mini tummy tuck recovery is faster than a full tummy tuck because it is a simpler procedure with less tissue trauma and generally does not include muscle repair. The first few days after surgery include walking and can get back to vigorous exercise in 4 weeks.
For a full tummy tuck without muscle repair, vigorous exercise can resume at 6 weeks. A full tummy tuck with muscle repair is more like 8 weeks.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are extended tummy tucks, fleur de lis abdominoplasty and body lifts. These are more extensive procedures, so returning to your full exercise program may take even longer than 8 weeks post-op.
No matter what type of tummy tuck surgery you had, you will eventually be able to do the same exercises as someone who has not had a tummy tuck. Once you are fully recovered, the sky is the limit.
2. Know the benefits of exercising before surgery
Developing healthy habits starts before surgery. In Dr. Beldholm’s opinion, exercising prior to surgery is beneficial so patients can have better tummy tuck results. Many women stick to a regular exercise program to stay fit. This is a good thing. Healthy, active patients tend to have an easier recovery. Having an established routine makes it easier to get back to working out after surgery, too. Finally, exercise uplifts your mood, releases endorphins. Exercise is thought to reduce stress levels naturally. It’s a good way to calm your nerves leading up to the big day.
3. Light exercise is good after surgery
Many women think that staying off their feet is the fastest way to recover from tummy tuck surgery. That is outdated thinking. Yes, rest during recovery is important. But it is beneficial to get moving soon after surgery.
Despite what many people think, you should not be lying around doing nothing 1-2 weeks post op. Thanks to advancements in surgical techniques and anesthesia administration, our understanding of healing and human physiology has changed. Many surgeons now recommend that you get moving as early as the first 24 hours after surgery.
Staying in bed all day after surgery (without walking) is linked to problems such as:
- More swelling (Note that it is normal to be swollen after surgery, but lying in bed all day makes it worse)
- Increased risk of DVT/PE
- More pain
- Longer recovery time.
4. Get walking the day of surgery!
Walking for a few minutes every few hours the same day of surgery is important. Doing so is thought to reduce the risk of blood clots by keeping your body moving. While you may feel tired and groggy after surgery, it is good to start walking right away. A few minutes of walking every few hours is all that is needed. Early in tummy tuck recovery, you don’t want to strain yourself. It is normal to feel tender and sore after surgery. Light walking is an enjoyable way to stay healthy and reduce post-op risks.
5. Tips for walking after surgery
The first day in your recovery is the hardest. However, you should still walk and move as needed. You don’t have to speed walk or run a marathon. Everyone understands that you just had a significant operation and will need to walk slowly. It is also normal to be bent over when you walk, which helps protect the incision. By day 10, many patients will be able to walk upright.
As each day passes, you will be able to do a little more, so don’t get discouraged by having a hard time walking early on. Take your time, and you will do just fine.
6. Activities for the first two weeks
For the first 14 days of recovery, you will be encouraged to:
- Sit up in bed
- Walk around the hospital unit and/or while at home
- Start breathing exercises
- Increase the minutes spent walking each day
7. Keep your spirits up by being mindful of post-op progress
Some patients get discouraged and frustrated by limited mobility after surgery. This is normal. Keeping track of your progress can help you have a positive outlook, which may reduce stress and make recovery easier. Remember, you won’t be limited in mobility forever. It’s only temporary.
Knowing what to expect can help. By Day 14, the worst is behind you. Hopefully you have been walking the first two weeks after surgery. Now that you are on your way to healing, you should be walking fully upright at this point. Most discomfort will have passed by now. However, marked swelling will still be present. As each week passes, you will regain more ability to start getting back to your life. Patience is key.
8. Listen to your body
The body tells you all you need to know. Pushing through minor discomfort when you start to exercise at 4-8 weeks (on average) is okay. If you feel pain, however, stop. If you are beginning an ‘extreme’ exercise routine in the first few months after surgery, it’s wise to clear it with your surgeon first. The body needs time to heal. While exercise is beneficial, you do not want to cause stress or trauma to healing tissue and skin. Starting intense exercise too soon after surgery can even cause the incision to open.
9. Exercises for diastasis recti
While there are exercises to repair torn abdominals naturally, some women need the help of surgery. If your tummy tuck also involved repairing torn ab muscles (diastasis recti), core exercise after surgery can help. Exercises for diastasis recti help strengthen the body core. However, it’s imperative to wait at least 4 weeks after muscle repair surgery before starting exercise to strengthen and repair torn abdominals.
Core exercises such as bridges and leg raises may be beneficial after recovering from a tummy tuck with muscle repair. Dr. Beldholm recommends avoiding exercises that cause intra-abdominal pressure for at least 4 weeks. Examples include sit ups or straining exercises, such as heavy weight lifting. The ab muscles need time to heal.
10. Use products that help make post-op exercise easier
Compression garments can help secure the surgical site and prevent damage from daily straining and movement. Dr. Beldholm provides high-quality tummy tuck compression garments to all his patients. However, compression garments are not designed for use during exercise and can be uncomfortable.