What You Need To Know About Tummy Tuck Drains: Answers to Your FAQs

Woman holds her slim belly after a tummy tuck procedure.

Tummy tucks can smooth out your midsection and dramatically contour the body. But they are also known for requiring a longer recovery time than many other surgeries. My tummy tuck patients here in Sacramento often ask questions about drains, sutures, and safe recovery tips. Drains, in particular, are an important part of the healing process and should be properly tended.

Safely caring for your drains helps boost your recovery process and creates beautiful post-op results. This blog post will explain the purpose of tummy tuck drains and describe how patients can best care for them.

Why do you have drains after tummy tuck surgery?

During surgery, a small space is formed between the skin tissue and the abdominal muscle layer. The body’s natural healing response prompts fluid (made of plasma) to accumulate in this space. If left unattended, this fluid can cause complications such as infection, fever, and swelling. Drains are used to remove the fluid from the body safely.

One or two clear tubes are placed through a short incision just below the main tummy tuck incision. The tubes lead out of the body and into a small bulb that is about the size of a fist. Each bulb will collect the plasma fluid, which you can later empty out. Bulbs often come with measurement markers along the sides, so you can keep track of how much fluid is collected.

How do you empty and clean post-op drains?

Regularly clean the area where the drain makes contact with the skin. Wash the drainage site with gentle antibacterial soap to prevent infection.

You should empty the bulb attached to the drain several times a day. Use one hand to grab the drain near where it meets the skin and the other hand to pinch the bulb off. After recording how much fluid is inside, you can empty out the contents. Continue to track and empty your drain until you’re fully healed or your doctor determines that it’s safe to remove the drains entirely.

Drains are used after a variety of surgeries, not just tummy tucks. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers some helpful information and a video explaining how to empty the drain and check your drain sites for infection.

Do drains limit my activities?

A little forethought may be required for everyday activities. Give yourself time to relax while you’re healing. Low-impact movement, such as walking, is allowed and can help with recovery.  Take sponge baths and careful showers to avoid irritating sutures near the drains.

When out and about, you can use specialized post-surgical drain belts to wear your bulb without drawing too much attention. Compression garments can also help keep drains in place and prevent them from being accidentally tugged.

How long do drains stay in after a tummy tuck?

The length of time that drains are needed varies from person to person. In general, tummy tuck drains are commonly removed between 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. Once the amount of drained fluid diminishes, the purpose of the drains is fulfilled, and they can be safely taken out by your surgeon.

With a bit of care and proper attention, tummy tuck drains can help your body safely and gently heal. To see examples of what tummy tuck surgery can create, browse our before-and-after gallery. If you would like to learn more about body contouring options such as tummy tuck surgery or liposuction, request a consultation online or call (916) 929-1833.

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