Can Back Pain After Tummy Tuck Surgery Be Prevented?

Thomas P. Sterry, MD
Black-and-white back view of a woman who is looking down with her arms extended straight up over her head.

Recently, a patient came into my office for a consultation about a body contouring operation. She was concerned about back pain after a tummy tuck, as she had read that it could be a problem. Unfortunately, she ended up choosing another surgeon to perform her tummy tuck operation, one who claimed to have a special technique to prevent resulting back pain.

Why unfortunately? Because I know through tummy tuck surgical experience and research at my NYC practice that the only way to guarantee zero lower back pain after tummy tuck surgery is to perform a subpar operation. Let me explain.

The Anatomy of a Tummy Tuck

During a tummy tuck, an incision is made in the lower abdomen, and the skin from the umbilicus down to the incision is removed. The remaining tummy skin is then pulled down while the mons pubis region is lifted slightly in order to close the resulting wound. How tightly the wound is closed depends almost entirely on the height at which the initial incision is made. The lower the incision, the tighter the closure will be.

There is always some pain associated with a tummy tuck, as with any surgery, your surgeon can discuss tips for relieving tummy tuck pain. However, some patients experience back pain as well.

What Causes Back Pain After a Tummy Tuck?

Back pain after a tummy tuck is an occasional phenomenon but is not the norm. It sometimes occurs in patients who don’t have a lot of lower tummy skin to remove, resulting in a tighter closure than usual. This prevents the patient from being able to stand upright for a few days or sometimes weeks after the surgery. It is important to mention that there are NO reported incidents of patients not being able to stand straight after a reasonable recovery time.

However, many similar patients with very little tummy skin to remove never experience back pain while recovering from a tummy tuck. So, why does this happen in some patients and not others?

This tight closure is both the ideal result of a tummy tuck operation and the ultimate cause of related back pain. A tight closure requires more time after the operation to allow the patient to relax, stand straight, sleep on their belly, or extend their back.

If this recovery period goes on for more than a week—as sometimes happens—then it should be no surprise that patients might develop some back pain. This is the result of remaining in a hunched position for a week and has nothing to do with the surgery proper.

How To Relieve Back Pain After Tummy Tuck Surgery

Since the back pain is a result of walking with a slight hunch, some people find relief using a walker for a few days to provide support. Others suggest taking ibuprofen and using a warm compress to help relax the back muscles and relieve pain. Be sure to discuss taking pain relievers with your surgeon, however.

The Reality of the “Special Technique”

So what was the “special technique” developed by a plastic surgeon in Chicago that my consult patient chose in order to avoid back pain?
In order for the surgeon to promise no back pain after a tummy tuck, he would have to make the incision higher on the tummy. In doing so, he would remove less tummy skin and would not have a tight abdominal closure.

In other words, to avoid the possibility of back pain, a patient undergoing this “special technique” would come away with her tummy not as tight as it could be. Not only that, she may not be able to wear a bikini ever again because the scar will show from the higher incision.

Be Informed About Your Tummy Tuck

Realistically, if you are going to sign up for a tummy tuck—including all of the cost, both financial and otherwise—wouldn’t you want the best tummy tuck you could get? If my consult patient had understood the problems associated with back pain prevention, I wonder what choice she would have made.

If you are considering a tummy tuck or any surgery, make sure you are fully informed of the techniques your surgeon plans to use and ask questions about recovery times, scarring, and any other concerns you might have. You might even want to check out one of my other blog posts regarding tummy tuck recovery — it even includes a video to help you better understand the process.

Informed decisions are the key to great results. Visit my website for more information about tummy tuck surgery and see some of my patients’ before and after pictures. You can schedule your tummy tuck consultation using this online form or by calling my office at (212) 249-4020.

2 Responses to Can Back Pain After Tummy Tuck Surgery Be Prevented?

  • Amanda says:

    I had a tummy tuck 4 years ago. I didn’t have much skin to remove I couldn’t stand up straight for a few weeks. 4 years later I’m still suffering with chronic back pain that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’d take back my stretch marks any day

    • Oh, I’m so sorry! Yes, I actually just saw a patient today that was worried about her back pain getting worse. The best solution is to raise the scar a little bit.
      Hope you get better.

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