Tummy tuck eases post-birth back pain

Sarah Wiedersehn
AAP

A tummy tuck to reshape the abdomen post pregnancy can lessen back pain and urinary incontinence suffered by many women after giving birth, an Australian study has found.

The authors of the published study believe they have proven the surgical procedure, known as abdominoplasty, has a functional purpose, as well as cosmetic, that will benefit mums.

"Abdominoplasty repairs the rectus diastasis (muscle separation after pregnancy) as well as removing skin from above the umbilicus to the pubis.

"This not only restores the trunk to its pre-pregnancy shape, it also restores core strength, essential in converting a moderate disability to a trivial issue and allows a woman to live a life free of background pain and worry about injury," said study leader Dr Alistair Taylor of Canberra's CAPS Clinic.

The study included 214 women undergoing abdominoplasty at nine Australian plastic surgery centres. The women's average age was about 42 and the majority had given birth at least twice.

Prior to surgery, about 51 per cent reported moderate to severe disability from back pain, while urinary incontinence was a "significant concern" for 42.5 per cent..

Follow-up questionnaires the women filled out at six weeks and six months showed only nine per cent of patients still reported moderate disability from back pain.

Less than two per cent said urinary incontinence remained a significant problem.

The results have prompted a call from Australia's peak body for specialist plastic surgeons for the government to subsidise the surgical procedure through Medicare.

In 2016 the Department of Health reclassified abdominoplasty as a cosmetic procedure, removing it from the Medicare schedule for all other than massive weight loss patients.

Professor Mark Ashton, President of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons says there are many operations performed for the relief of chronic pain and it is unfair for women to be "penalised for giving birth".

He says abdominoplasty should be considered as a procedure that fixes instability and addresses pain and function issues.

"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," Professor Ashton said.

The call has the support of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

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

The study was published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the journal for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).