A lot of us have back pain.  And kids, in addition to being a pain in the neck at times :), can also lead to a pain in your back.  

That tummy tucks help with back pain is not new news.  When you have babies you will stretch out your abdominal muscles.  Frequently this leads to separation of the rectus muscles, what is called a diastasis.  This midline separation cannot be fixed with situps.  The only way we have of fixing it is to corset the muscles back together during a tummy tuck. 

So why would fixing your belly help your back?  Your back and your abdominal muscles work to stabilize your body and help you stand up straight.  If your abdomen is blown out or loosey goosey (I know, highly technical terms here), then your back must work overtime to stabilize your body.  This can lead to pain.

What is common folk wisdom in plastic surgery often leads to scientific papers which support it.  A multitude of papers have emerged which support that tummy tucks are not a just-to-make-you-look-pretty surgery, but a functional one.  The latest appeared in the January 2011 issue of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Journal .  It is a study out of the University of Michigan, “Wide Abdominal Rectus Plication Abdominoplasty for the Treatment of Chronic Intractable Low Back Pain.” 

In it, they point out some ideas I would like to reiterate:

  • Most surgical treatment for chronic back pain is directed at the spine.  In a study by Toranto, who first championed the wide abdominal rectus plication, he gave relief to chronic back pain in 24 of 25 patients by addressing the belly, not the back.
  • A tummy tuck for back pain is only useful in patients who present with significant abdominal wall weakness and laxity.  All of the patients in this study had one or more pregnancies. 
  • Conservative treatment is always good first. 
  • For those with neurologic damage of the spine, you need to make sure there is no radiographic or clinical evidence of the damage being caused by an identifiable structural lesion in the spine.

 

The study postulates that the rectus muscle forms a “sheath” of tissue connecting to the thoracolumbar fascia.  “This forms a structure that biomechanically influences the mechanics and stability of the lumbar spine.”  The “wide” abdominal plication doesn’t just realign the rectus muscles, it brings it in tighter.  The thought is to increase the intraabdominal pressure and put the muscles at a more efficient place in the force-length curve to increase their force generating capacity. In this small study of 8 patients, all were improved. 

Small studies can be discounted, but this study had a very thorough evaluation preoperative and postoperatively by a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist with specific expertise in management of chronic low back pain.  100% of them were better.

OUCH!

I have a friend who lives in LA who just had a tummy tuck and breast augmentation.  She is on her first day after surgery.  She is a tough cookie, and her words to me today were, “This really hurts!!”

One of the most common mommy makeover surgeries is breast augmentation and tummy tuck.   These by themselves are the two most painful surgeries we do as plastic surgeons.  These surgeries hurt because of the muscle.  For tummy tucks, I like to put in a pain pump which drips numbing medication internally to help.  In addition we give you pain medication and some of us use muscle relaxants as well.  Even with all of this, it still hurts.

For planning how to deal with your family life (as you are a mom, hence the mommy makeover):

  • the first 2-3 days you are OUT. You will be on medication round the clock.  Someone else should care for your kids.  And you. 
  • The first one to two weeks you will be very sore.  No driving until you are off pain medication.  As for when you will feel normal again and be doing your daily life things, people vary.  Every person is different as to when they get over the “hump” and feel better. 
  • No heavy lifting (yes, this includes your adorable children) until much farther out.  Exactly when you can lift something over 5-10 pounds is not a hard rule.  Some of it depends on you and your tissue.  Your doctor will know what that means.  Here plastic surgeons differ on their recommendations for activity level, so defer to your doctor.  Tensile strength of your wound (how strong your repair is) is weakest at three weeks out from surgery.  Usually you can’t do any exercise until at least 6 weeks out.  For core body exercise (pilates, crunches, that favorite daily method place in menlo park, etc) I extend that until 3 months.

Give yourself time.  It took you 9 months (and for those of you with multiple kids, multiply that time) to get into this mess, it will take you a while until you feel normal again.  This is normal.

We have established it isn’t a good thing to do the tummy tuck with C section.  I know. I know.  I’d love it too.  But it just isn’t a good idea.  So when can you do it?

When is good timing? Here you will get varied answers.  Most plastic surgeons will advise 6 months or more.  Most will advise trying to get to your pre pregnancy weight.

My advice?

  1. KNOW YOU ARE DONE WITH KIDS.
  2. Wait at least 3 months: you lose blood during delivery and need to give your body time to rebuild up its blood stores.
  3. Get back to prepregnancy weight.
  4. Work out and focus on your core.
  5. Be done with breastfeeding.  I would wait a couple months after breastfeeding so you can build up your nutrition again.
  6. See a Plastic Surgeon.  Make sure you don’t see someone who can only do liposuction– you need someone to evaluate you who actually can do a tummy tuck or liposuction.
  7. Know the “price” you are willing to pay for surgery.  (For this please see my blog on the grey zone for tummy tucks at bodypostbaby on wordpress.)