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Liposuction vs. Tummy Tuck Surgery: What’s The Difference?

Written by Cameron Craven, MD, FACS, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon on April 23, 2021 28 Comments

tummy tuck vs liposuction

Originally Published March 12, 2014. Updated April 23, 2021 with additional information

Quick Answer: Tummy tuck surgery (adominoplasty) is best at addressing excess skin and loose muscles. Liposuction targets isolated fat pockets that are resistant to diet and exercise. Tummy tuck procedures are more invasive, requiring general anesthesia and an extensive recovery period. In contracts, liposuction can be done under twilight anesthesia and features relatively little downtime. Continue reading to learn the differences between liposuction and tummy tuck surgery.

Many of our patients that are interested in a flatter stomach ask what the difference is between a tummy tuck and liposuction. After all both procedures can drastically help clients improve the abdominal area by creating a tone and tight midsection. However, liposuction and tummy tuck procedures are actually very different in terms of the results they provide.

Liposuction

Liposuction is ideal for removing localized fatty tissue that is centralized to specific areas (think “buldges”). The tumescent liposuction is specifically effective for safely removing excess stubborn fat. Liposuction is also far less invasive than a tummy tuck, which involves a scarring, general anesthesia, and long recovery times.

Additionally liposuction can be used on many other places of the body than the stomach, including the sides (love handles), arms, chin, legs, and butt.

Liposuction is perfect for people who generally have good skin and muscle tone. These are individuals who do not have issues like excess skin in the midsection or loose abdominal muscles. Often liposuction improves the shape of the patient’s stomach to a point where they look better in and out of clothes; solving the main concern of the patient.

However liposuction will not eliminate extra skin, stretch marks, and issues stemming from loose abdominal muscles. Often these issues can be associated with massive weight loss or pregnancy.

Before and After Liposuction

Dr. Cameron Craven
patient A Liposuction before side view Before
patient A Liposuction after side view After
Dr. Gregory Nikolaidis
quarter before Before
quarter after After

View Liposuction Photo Gallery

Tummy Tuck

A tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) is a great procedure for removing excess abdominal skin while tightening the abdominal muscles.

The tummy tuck procedure starts with an incision across the lower abdomen allowing a surgeon to remove excess skin and tighten slack muscles. Any remaining skin is then re-draped over the abdominal area leaving a flat and tight stomach.

In short, a tummy tuck is the best solution if the main issue experienced by the patient is loose skin or stretched muscle tissue (not fat).

Before and After Tummy Tuck

Dr. Cameron Craven
before tummy tuck front Before
after tummy tuck front After
Dr. Timothy McGee
bent before Before
bent after After

View Tummy Tuck Photo Gallery

The Key Indicator: Isolated Fat or Excess Skin and/or lax muscles?

Liposuction is commonly the best treatment for those with good skin tone and a relatively flat abdominal wall. Patients who do not have excess skin or lax muscles and just require the removal of isolated pockets of excess fat are ideal candidates for liposuction. Liposuction removes excess fat between the skin and abdominal wall through tiny incisions. A skilled surgeon won’t simply remove fat, but will sculpt an aesthetically pleasing contour.

The best candidates for liposuction generally fit the following profile:

  • Within 20 pounds of their ideal body weight
  • Have no history of pregnancy or significant weight loss
  • Do not exhibit issues related to loose muscles or excess (sagging) skin
  • Seek only the removal of isolated (diet and exercise resistant) pockets of fat

Patients with excess skin or abdominal muscles which have become loose or stretched may need a tummy tuck procedure. In this case, a liposuction procedure could actually result in even more loose, sagging skin.

Otherwise known as abdominoplasty, tummy tucks can be performed instead of or in addition to liposuction. A tummy tuck involves surgical excision (removal) of fat or excess skin as well as the tightening of underlying muscle tissue. Tummy tuck results are often dramatic, transforming the entire abdominal area into a tighter and tone silhouette.

Ideal candidates for abdominoplasty generally fit the following profile:

  • Have a history of pregnancy or significant weight loss
  • Have excess, loose, or droopy skin
  • Have issues related to lax or loose muscles
  • Require both fat removal and skin tightening for an improved contour

Liposuction vs Tummy Tuck: What’s the Difference?

Results

Ultimately, the choice between a tummy tuck or liposuction procedure depends on the needs and desired final result of the patient. Liposuction does not address sagging skin, lax muscles, cellulite or stretch marks. The procedure is solely intended to remove isolated areas of unwanted fat and contour the treatment area. Tummy tuck surgery has the ability to tighten lax abdominal muscles and remove excess fat and skin in order to completely transform the appearance of the stomach.

Both procedures can provide permanent results as long as they are properly maintained by the patient post-surgery.

Procedure Invasiveness

While both liposuction and tummy tuck techniques can vary, tummy tuck is often considered to be a more invasive procedure than liposuction. Lipo can be performed without the use of general anesthesia. The procedure requires several small incisions, which allow a small tube called a cannula to be inserted in order to suck out unwanted fat and contour the body.

A tummy tuck is a more invasive surgery which requires a larger incision. Tummy tuck incisions run horizontally between the hips and sometimes around the belly button. These larger incisions allow surgeons to surgically excise (remove) excess skin and tissue is removed, as well as manually tighten loose or lax muscle. Often the belly button is repositioned before the incisions are closed with sutures.

Recovery Times

Recovery from liposuction is typically quicker than tummy tuck recovery. Most patients can resume light activity within 2-3 days of their surgery. Moderate to strenuous activity can resume after 2-3 weeks.

Tummy tuck recovery, on the other hand, often requires 2-3 weeks of rest before returning to work or light movement. A return to moderate or strenuous activity can take up to 3 months, at which point muscles and incisions have both fully healed.

Pain

While pain tolerance can differ from individual to individual, patients often say the process of recovering from tummy tuck surgery is more painful than liposuction. While liposuction requires small incisions in the skin only, many tummy tuck techniques involve incisions that penetrate the muscle. Additionally, the tightening of abdominal muscles during a tummy tuck procedure can cause pain and discomfort for several days after the procedure. However, any pain or discomfort from either procedure can be effectively managed via prescription pain medication.

Scarring

Like any surgical procedure, both liposuction and tummy tuck surgery can result in scarring. However, the risk of developing a visible scar after liposuction is lower compared to a tummy tuck procedure. Most liposuction techniques involve incision sites are small and typically hidden where they will be covered by undergarments or bikini bottoms.

Experienced surgeons will also place tummy tuck incisions in areas where they can be hidden by clothing, but the larger incisions inherent to a tummy tuck procedure results in a greater risk of scarring. A traditional tummy tuck procedure, for example, can create scars extending from the right to left hip and around the belly button.

It’s important for patients to know that scars stemming from either procedure can be minimized with proper aftercare. Additionally, there are several effective scar removal treatments to minimize the appearance of scarring. These include steroid therapy, laser skin resurfacing, intense pulsed light therapy, and microneedling.

Procedure Cost

The cost of liposuction typically depends upon the size of the area(s) to be treated. A minor procedure could cost as low as $2,000, while treating several areas at once may cost up to $8,000. Liposuction in the abdominal area may include the lower belly below the navel, the waist and low back.

Tummy tuck surgery is not only more complex than liposuction, but requires general anesthesia, which adds to the expense. Depending on the type of abdominoplasty technique used, the cost of tummy tuck surgery can range anywhere from $6,000 – $10,000.

The final cost of any plastic surgery procedure is determined by several variables including the unique need of each patient and the surgical technique used. The only way to know exactly how much your procedure will cost is to get an in-person consultation, where a surgeon can assess your needs and create a treatment plan to provider your desired end result.

Liposuction + Tummy Tuck

Patients with excess fat and sagging skin who are seeking dramatic results may actually benefit most from a combination of both tummy tuck and liposuction. Both procedures can also be done in conjunction with other popular plastic surgery treatments like breast lift or breast augmentation in what is often referred to as a “mommy makeover.” There are several advantages of doing multiple surgical procedures simultaneously including reductions in procedure cost and recovery time.

Which Procedure is better for you?

While both liposuction and tummy tuck are excellent body contouring procedures it’s extremely important to determine what specific issues must be corrected to determine the best course of treatment. If the problem is excess skin or loose abdominal muscles from excessive weight loss a tummy tuck may be your best option. For individuals who just need to improve isolated areas liposuction is usually the best course of treatment.

Still unsure which procedure would be best for you? Contact us today for a free no-obligation consultation.


Cameron Craven, MD, FACS

Cameron Craven MD, FACS is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Craven specializes in the full spectrum of cosmetic surgery including breast augmentation, liposuction and body contouring, facial rejuvenation, laser surgery, eyelid surgery, and rhinoplasty, as well as reconstructive surgery for skin cancers.


28 Responses to “Liposuction vs. Tummy Tuck Surgery: What’s The Difference?”

  1. Avatar Kelsay says:

    I underwent both lipo and a tummy tuck and I look amazing!

  2. Avatar Jacqueline says:

    Hi my name is Jacqueline and I just wanted to drop you a quick note here instead of calling you. I came to your Liposuction vs. Tummy Tuck Surgery – Which Is Best? post and just wanted to thank you for such great information. I’m out of state but you helped me out so I just wanted to say thanks!

  3. Avatar Mela says:

    What’s the difference between lipo and smartlipo?

  4. Avatar Ella says:

    Very helpful post! So am I correct in thinking that liposuction will not address lose skin where as tummy tuck can take care of that?

  5. Avatar Debbie says:

    Is it alright to have a tummy tuck after having 3 c-sections? The last one was done 26 years ago!

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Debbie, that’s a great question! Basically it all depends on the specifics of the patient; particularly how they healed after their procedures. If, for example, extensive scar tissue exists that could complicate the procedure.

      Your best bet would be to schedule an in-person consultation with a provider. They will be able to asses your candidicacy and discuss any applicable considerations that must be made. If you are in the Austin-area please feel free to contact us for a free consultation!

      Thanks again for reading and submitting a great question!

      –WD Staff

  6. Avatar Chrishuna says:

    I have fibroids that make abdominal weight loss unsuccessful. I am otherwise healthy and would like to get the Physician’s recommendation on liposuction v. Tummy tuck in my case. Thank you

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Chrishuna, Thanks for taking the time to read our post and submitting your question. Unfortunately it will be very hard to recommend a treatment plan without assessing you in person. Are you in the Austin area? If so, please feel free to give us a call to setup a free assessment! Otherwise we would encourage you to seek a consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon in your area.

      It all comes down to specific characteristics of your body. Do you have excess loose skin? Or is the issue fat pockets isolated to specific body areas. This can only be determined with an in-person consultation.

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  7. Avatar Ramon says:

    What I liked the most was when you said that liposuction was not only helpful in removing the excessive stubborn fat but also far less invasive than the tummy tuck surgery. I think my sister will settle for a liposuction over a tummy tuck because she does not want to undergo painful surgeries that take months to heal. She wants to look beautiful on her wedding day, so I’m helping her out, otherwise, I wouldn’t agree with it. Thanks. I’ll discuss this again with her.

  8. Avatar Ashley says:

    What is the general range of cost for a tummy tuck or Lipo?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for reading our post and submitting your question. In general, it’s very difficult to quote prices as each patient may require a different treatment plan. For both lipo and Tummy Tuck procedures there are numerous different techniques, each with different costs.

      That said, we did a great post to get a general idea of pricing for common cosmetic treatments. Please see this post: https://www.westlakedermatology.com/blog/cosmetic-treatments-cost-guide/. It gives price range by metro area (U.S.).

      However, we would encourage you to see a provider for an in-office consultation. That’s the only way to really get the exact cost (and treatment plan) that is right for you!

      If you are in the Austin area, please give us a call!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  9. Avatar Violet says:

    What if you have both loose muscles and excess skin (that lovely “mama apron”) resulting from pregnancy, but also excess fat to remove? Generally speaking, would you do both lipo and a tummy tuck?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Violet,

      Thanks for reading our post and submitting your great question! You are correct, patients with the characteristics you describe may best benefit from combining a Tummy Tuck procedure with liposuction. However, the only way to know for sure would be to see a plastic surgeon for an in-person consultation. They’ll need to determine the laxity of the skin and underlying muscles to determine the best course of treatment.

      If you’re in the Austin area, please give us a call at 512.328.3376 for a free consultation!

      Thanks again,
      WD Staff

  10. Avatar April says:

    Does liposuction get rid of cellulite? Or is it more to get rid of just fat?

  11. Avatar Ritika says:

    Hi ,i have done liposuction surgery but my stretch marks are not gone yet …what should i do now should i go for tummy tuck surgery ….??

  12. Avatar David says:

    Get both 🙂

  13. Avatar Jenna says:

    Thinking about getting a tummy tuck after loosing alot of weight. Thanks for explaining how a surgeon can removed excess skin and is best for extra skin or stretched muscle.

  14. Avatar Marjorie says:

    I had a tummy tucks 3 years ago. Is it safe to do liposuction?
    Really the question is can you do liposuction after a tummy tuck
    Thank you

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Marjoire,

      In most cases it is safe to do lipo post tummy tuck. However you may need to visit a board certified plastic surgeon to ensure that you are a good candidate. There are instances where scar tissue from a previous surgery can be problematic. An in-person consultation is the best way to verify a treatment plan and see if you qualify!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  15. Avatar Mike says:

    Can one get both liposuction and a tummy tuck? what cases would that be good for?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Mike,

      There are cases that require the combination of both procedures. This is often the case for patients who need to remove both excess fat and excess skin. We would advise you to get an in-person consulation with a board certified plastic surgeon in your area to learn if you are a candiate for both procedures!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  16. Avatar Adam says:

    My wife is thinking about tummy tuck or lipo but we are not sure if she has loose muscles or major excess skin. How can we determine that?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Great question Adam! Sometime it can be hard to determine if the amount of loose/excess skin and/or muscles rises to the degree where tummy tuck surgery is necessary. Your best bet is to come in for an in-person consultation. A skilled plastic surgeon can assess her individual needs and goals to determine the best course of treatment.

      Please give us a call at 512-328-3376 if you would like to setup a consult!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

  17. Avatar dc says:

    Having hard time getting rid of my lower belly, I have thyroid and it is very hard to lose and tighten up this are. Which would be best. Lipo or tummy tuck

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi DC,

      Thanks for reading our post and your great question! I think your best bet would be to get an in-person consultation to determine the best course of treatment. We would have to assess you in-office to see if your issues stem more from excess skin and laxity issues or isolated fat.

      Please give us a call if you would like to setup a consult!

      Thanks,
      WD Staff

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