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A Brief History of the Tummy Tuck

The tummy tuck has become a mainstay of modern plastic surgery. Industry figures show it generated the highest revenue from all surgical procedures in the US last year (2021), with 242,939 procedures performed – the third highest after liposuction and breast augmentation.

We’ve seen this at our practice too. Patients schedule tummy tuck consultations with Dr. Liland more than any other type of surgery.

But what is the history of this high-demand procedure?

The tummy tuck, known medically as an abdominoplasty, has been used in plastic surgery since the 1800s. Although this popular procedure has now been around for well over a century, the techniques and technologies have improved substantially.

Late 1800s – The First Tummy Tucks

In the 1890s, French surgeons developed a technique to treat umbilical hernias (protrusion of the belly button). To reach the herniated tissue better, they removed excess abdominal skin.

As an unintended consequence, they noticed it had an immediate, positive effect on the shape and appearance of the abdomen. They quickly realised the procedure could have significant aesthetic benefits for patients.

Word of the new procedure began to spread quickly (the first tummy tuck in the US was performed in 1899), but it had one major issue – the procedure removed the belly button, resulting in a flatter, but unnatural-looking stomach. Surgeons grew concerned, believing there was no way to perform a tummy tuck without losing the belly button. Suturing techniques were still undeveloped, too, so patients were left with significant scarring following surgery.

Early 1900s – Techniques Advance

However, it didn’t take long for surgical techniques to develop and, in the early 1900s, tummy tuck surgery started to improve substantially. In 1905, French surgeons discovered they could save the belly button using vertical and horizontal incisions rather than one horizontal incision across the abdomen as they had previously done.

This was a major step forward, although scarring was still a major issue. The next major advances came during the First World War, when modern medicine, as a whole, made hundreds of breakthroughs thanks to the hard work of doctors and nurses treating wounded soldiers. Techniques, expertise and anatomical knowledge all improved rapidly, resulting in far better results. For example, surgeons learned how to protect the underlying structure of the umbilicus.

Late 1900s – Tummy Tucks Become A Cosmetic Procedure

Until the 1970s and 1980s, abdominoplasty was still largely performed to treat wounds, especially from war.

But during this period, suturing techniques improved, meaning the appearance of scars could be dramatically reduced. This was a turning point for the procedure, and its application as a cosmetic surgery started to gain popularity.

Plus, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, surgeons began to combine the tummy tuck with liposuction. Liposuction had been invented by Dr. Giorgio Fischer in 1974, but it took a while for the procedure to mature and become suitable for use as part of a tummy tuck. But from this point onwards, the modern tummy tuck procedure was born.

The Modern Tummy Tuck

Today, tummy tucks are much safer and more effective than they were originally due to improvements in tools, techniques, and surgical expertise. Modern surgeons have learned how to achieve better results tailored to each patient, reduce recovery times, and minimize scarring.

As a result, tummy tucks are now mainly used for cosmetic purposes, such as to remove C-section scars, tighten muscles in the abdomen following pregnancy, remove excess skin following significant weight loss, and more.

The Biggest Advancements of the Tummy Tuck

The modern tummy tuck has come a long way from the nineteenth-century procedure that was just one horizontal line cut across the entire stomach and resulted in the loss of the belly button. Here are some of the most significant advancements in the tummy tuck technique and the technologies used since it first surfaced:

  • Tummy tucks are now drain-free, leaving minimal space for fluid to build up and promoting a smoother recovery.
  • Tummy tucks can be combined with other procedures during a mommy makeover, allowing surgeons to perform multiple surgeries, eliminating the need for further anesthesia, and having just one recovery period.
  • The mini tummy tuck technique, or partial abdominoplasty, was developed, allowing plastic surgeons to use a smaller incision to tighten excess skin below the belly button for patients who did not require a full tummy tuck.
  • The introduction of liposuction has allowed for better-defined contouring and smoother results.

If you are considering a tummy tuck to help you reach your goal, schedule a consultation with a trusted, experienced surgeon such as Dr. Liland.