Abdominoplasty, more commonly known as ‘tummy tuck’, is one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries practiced around the world to get rid of excess tummy fat and skin. Now a group of plastic surgeons are suggesting that the procedure may have functional benefits that go beyond attaining a flatter stomach.

A study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), claims that abdominoplasty can help women deal with back pain and urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control) related to pregnancy.

The research group surveyed 214 women in Australia who were undergoing abdominoplasty at nine plastic surgery centers. The patients were looking to repair the muscles in the abdomen and restore its shape and appearance after childbearing.

The subjects, who averaged 42 years of age, had an average of 2.5 deliveries and were undergoing different types of tummy tucks. Prior to their surgeries they were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing their experiences with chronic back pain and incontinence following delivery.

Of the group, approximately 51% complained of moderate to severe disability from back pain while 42.5% said urinary incontinence was a "significant concern".

As for back pain, 9% of the women still had moderate back pain post surgery while 2% said incontinence was still a significant problem.

The study authors suggest that the improvements may be the result of repair of the abdominal muscle separation (rectus diastasis) which is incorporated into the surgery.

"By reducing the problems of back pain and incontinence, abdominoplasty with rectus repair leads to a better life for women after childbearing," said lead author D Alastair Taylor, FRACS, of The CAPS Clinic in Deakin, Australia.

Rod J. Rohrich, MD, the editor-in-chief of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery website, said the results demonstrated that tummy tucks have functional benefits, as well as cosmetic ones, particularly in the postpartum population.

"If you are done having children, and still suffering from back pain or incontinence, you may consider an abdominoplasty as a surgical solution," he opined.

Considering the results of his research, Dr. Taylor has suggested that health insurance plans should also recognize the functional benefits of abdominoplasty alongside its cosmetic offerings. He has called on Australia’s Federal Health Department to reconsider its decision to remove postpartum surgery from the Medicare Schedule of Benefits.

"The operation would cost approximately half, performed in a private hospital compared to what it does currently," he told ABC News.
The call for reclassification has found support among the fraternity of plastic surgeons.

“We support the inclusion of evidence-based findings to formulate health policy decisions. We urge the government to utilize such findings to support effective interventions that promote better healthcare outcomes," John Batten, president of RACS said.

"The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons hopes this new evidence will persuade the government to review its decision removing the Medicare item number for this operation for post partum women, a decision which has made the procedure unaffordable for a large number of women living with chronic pain and incontinence," added professor Ashton, president of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons.