Improving abdominal contour is a common reason why patients seek plastic surgery.  Pregnancy and weight fluctuations often contribute to the development of redundant skin and soft tissue of the abdomen.  So, liposuction or tummy tuck – which is more effective in improving abdominal contour?  Liposuction often sounds more appealing to many patients given that it is less invasive with faster recovery.  It is important to understand the indications for liposuction or tummy tuck and factors which determine the most appropriate technique for body contouring in a given patient.

Liposuction is a surgical procedure which involves suctioning redundant fat deposits to improve contour.  It is not an effective method for weight reduction, rather a technique for contouring and addressing focal deposits that are unresponsive to diet and exercise.  A few small access incisions, generally 3-4mm in length, are made to insert instruments used to suction the redundant fatty tissue.  Liposuction is only as good as the skin’s ability to retract afterwards.  If performed in a patient with decreased skin elasticity – following pregnancies or significant weight fluctuations – liposuction may actually worsen the appearance of the abdomen by increasing the degree of redundant skin.  Scarring is quite minimal and the recovery is less involved than following more major cosmetic surgeries.

Tummy tuck is a more extensive surgery, which removes redundant skin and soft tissue of the abdomen.  It involves a scar from hip to hip and a small scar around the belly button.  As more extensive surgery, it is capable of more dramatic results.  It may remove stretch marks that are present below the belly button level and may also correct gapping of the abdominal muscles which often develops following pregnancies and weight gain.

Who is a candidate for abdominal liposuction alone?

A patient of healthy body mass index with persistent fatty tissue that is unresponse to diet and exercise may be a candidate for liposuction alone if they demonstrate normal skin tone.  Following pregnancies and significant weight loss, the skin often will not retract fully following liposuction.  These patients may be more appropriate candidates for tummy tuck to address their aesthetic concerns.

When is tummy tuck more appropriate?

If stretch marks are present, this signifies that the skin has stretched beyond its ability to contract.  Following pregnancies and significant weight loss, often these patients will require a tummy tuck to address both redundant soft tissue as well as skin.

What issues are improved by liposuction vs. tummy tuck?

Liposuction may remove focal deposits of fatty tissue.  It does not tighten the overlying skin and relies on skin retraction over time to result in contour improvement.  Tummy tuck may remove redundant fatty tissue as well as excess skin.  The trade-off is a longer scar.  It may also tighten the abdominal muscles, which commonly develop a separation following pregnancies and weight fluctuations.

Can tummy tuck and liposuction be combined?

In certain cases, a combination of liposuction and tummy tuck may be recommended to achieve contour improvement of the abdomen and flank regions.  Some studies demonstrate increased risk of complications followingcombined tummy tuck and liposuction.  Tummy tuck with liposuction limited to the flank region may be safely performed in appropriately selected patients for further waistline definition.

What is anticipated recovery following liposuction and tummy tuck?

Patients generally require pain medication for a few days following these surgical procedures.  Following the muscle repair during tummy tuck, patients may experience slightly more discomfort than following liposuction.  It is important to avoid exercise for one month following liposuction to reduce bruising, swelling, and risk of bleeding.  Waiting six weeks before resuming exercise is recommended following tummy tuck to lower the risk of healing complications at the muscle repair site.

Please contact us if considering abdominal contouring to schedule a consultation with Dr. Power.  The most appropriate technique for you will be discussed following discussion and clinical examination.