Tummy Tightness after DIEP flap Breast Reconstruction

Tummy Tightness after DIEP flap Breast Reconstruction

I speak to many women who ask about tummy tightness after DIEP flap breast reconstruction.  The emphasis of the question focuses on how long the tightness will last and how it is adjusting to the new feeling.

When DIEP flap breast reconstruction is performed women also have the advantage of getting something that mimics a tummy tuck, also known as abdominoplasty.  The technical aspects of that surgery are well explained here at the Microsurgeon.org website.  Here is a quote from the page:

The tissue used for DIEP breast reconstruction contains skin, fat, and blood vessels. It is the same tissue area that is discarded in the classical cosmetic surgical abdominoplasty – also known as the tummy tuck.

Your Newly Altered Tummy

I want to make an analogy about tummy tightness after DIEP flap breast reconstruction.  When you buy a new pair of jeans that are too big in the waist you take them to the seamstress to have them altered.  When you buy them at the store, they may be loose, even sagging a bit.  After the seamstress does the alteration, your jeans are now tighter at the waist.  They may feel completely different at first but over time, they will soften and feel more comfortable.

So, it is with your abdominal area after DIEP flap breast reconstruction.  Your “newly altered” tummy will have a “sewn up”, tight, feeling but over time will soften.  I want to share a few of my own thoughts after my DIEP flap surgery.

My Experience

The first thing I saw after surgery were my new breasts.  I had a delayed DIEP flap so just to see that body part back was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.  I woke up with an abdominal binder from surgery so the unveiling of my new tight tummy would come a day or two after my surgery.  It was no less exhilarating.  I was fifty-eight years old at the time of my breast reconstruction and had delivered two very large boys, 8 lbs. 13 oz. and 9 lbs. 10 oz.  My combined age and pregnancies gave my plastic surgeon enough tummy tissue to rebuild my new breasts.  When I saw that tummy for the first time my thought was, “Does anyone have a quarter because I think I can bounce it off my new flat tummy!”

abdominal binder

The abdominal binder would be worn for another couple of weeks followed by a lighter weight, high waist-ed, support garment purchased at a department store.  I was getting used to the new feeling of having a tight tummy.  It was different to be sure, but not painful.  I noticed if I sat for long periods of time it would feel as if it would get stiffer, or tighter to me.  I would gently massage my tummy area in an outward motion from my belly button to the outer part of my waist.  This seemed to help bring some relief to the stiffer feeling.  I would also do this at night after lying down.  My physical therapist told me where the lymph nodes were in my groin area and I would massage this and my tummy incision.  It was helpful and brought relief at the end of a long day.

Tummy Tightness after Diep flap Breast Reconstruction

I began doing yoga and stretching exercises when given permission from my plastic surgeon. This helped alleviate some of the tightness and lack of flexibility.  I continue to wear my light weight compression garments on days of high activity or travel.

The New You!

My honest assessment of this new tummy tightness: It is not going to go away.  It is not painful.  You will get used to it.  I get this question so often on my Facebook page and it was time to write a blog about it.  I often tell women this: The photos or videos you see of men and women who have a  ripped” “six-pack” look is impressive. I don’t know what those abdominal muscles feel like but when I see people pounding on those “ripped” abs my sense is they must be tight.  Your tummy is likely going to always feel a bit tight after DIEP flap surgery.  The area was stretched and sewn down. Unless you gain a tremendous amount of weight, the underlying tissue has been altered and will always have a new, tighter feel.  I personally like the fact that I can no longer grab a handful of tummy skin.  The tight tummy feeling has softened in the three years since I had my DIEP but it is still there and I now embrace it as the new me after breast cancer and breast reconstruction.

Body parts for any surgery are altered but your tummy will become softer over time. The look and feel of our new tummy will be different for each of us after DIEP flap surgery.  How would you describe how your tummy feels after your surgery?  Have you become used to the new tight feeling?



References made to my surgical group, surgeon and healthcare team are made because they are aligned with my values and met my criterion after I did research of their practices and success rates. Any other healthcare provider that displays the same skill, compassion education and outreach to patients will be given consideration and recognition on this website.  The information contained on this website is not a substitute for or should be construed as medical advice. Please consult a licensed physician for medical advice.

3 Replies to “Tummy Tightness after DIEP flap Breast Reconstruction”

  1. Jennifer

    I personally hate the tightness in my abdomen after diet flap surgery. I constantly feel like I’m wearing a belt that’s too tight and I can’t stretch my stomach without it hurting. It’s quite miserable actually. If I’d known I’d be in this much discomfort I would’ve gone with implants.

    • Terri Post author

      I am very sorry to hear this, Jennifer. How long has it been since your surgery? Perhaps there are scar adhesions that could be causing extra discomfort. Were you prescribed any physical therapy after your DIEP flap? I wrote a blog on the benefits of ultra sound guided therapy and you should be able to find it on my blog page by typing in physical therapy in the search engine. Have you tried doing yoga? I don’t know your particular situation or your plastic surgeon but it may be worth asking about the above mentioned items to see if you can get some relief. Thank you for your comment.

      • Jennifer

        Hi Terri- thank you for sharing your thoughts. my surgeon did prescribe pt and I went quite a few times however they focused mostly on the cording I had under my arm from lymph node removal. It’s been 14 months since my surgery. Dr recommended I go back to PT for the abdomen but I haven’t gone yet. I’ve tried massaging the area some myself. When he did the flap surgery, I was borderline on having enough stomach tissue to create the desired size of breast mounds so I don’t know if that could be part of the reason it’s so tight because he took more out than should’ve been. I do need to get back to pt and will check out your article on the ultra sound guided treatment. Thank you again!

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