Many men want to have “six-pack” abdominal muscles. Physiologically, however, no matter how much some men exercise, their bodies will not produce the desired sculpted appearance. Available since the early 1990s, abdominal etching is a precise form of liposuction that creates the six-pack look. The procedure removes very small deposits of fat around the natural contours of the abdominal muscles, which allows the definition of those muscles to appear more prominently.
This surgery is a sculpting technique, meant to enhance muscles that are already developed. For this reason, not everyone can benefit from abdominal etching. If someone has large amounts of abdominal fat, or if his muscles are not already well-toned, a different type of surgery may be recommended. A standard liposuction procedure can benefit men who need more than final sculpting, while a tummy-tuck will both remove fat and tighten abdominal muscles. These other procedures can sometimes be combined with abdominal etching; meeting with a board-certified plastic surgeon is the best way to determine which procedure or procedures are right for each individual.
A good candidate for abdominal etching has a lean body, with around 15- to 18-percent body fat, and no more than about 20 percent. The candidate should be physically fit, with good health habits and long-range fitness goals. Factors such as sun damage, stretch marks or poor elasticity in the skin may limit the success of the procedure. Men who have slightly more body fat, somewhere above 20 percent, may be candidates for modified abdominal etching. Those with more moderate fitness goals may also benefit from the modified technique.
During the initial consultation, the plastic surgeon will discuss the patient’s overall health and fitness goals, and will assess the patient’s physical condition. The doctor will then draw lines on the patient’s body, defining exactly where the sculpting will occur. This is done with the muscles flexed, and while the patient is standing, so that the proper appearance can be formed.
Abdominal etching first involves removing fat from the general abdominal area. The surgeon then sculpts the midline linea alba, and around the outer boundaries of the rectus muscle. This completes the modified technique. Full abdominal etching, usually done for bodybuilders or those with other significant fitness goals, also involves sculpting horizontal inscription lines for the full six-pack appearance.
The surgery is often performed in a doctor’s own surgery suite, or may occur in an outpatient surgical facility. General anesthesia may be used, or the doctor may choose a local anesthetic, along with enough sedation to make the patient comfortable. Small incisions are made in the navel area and in the natural abdominal crease. More incisions may be located under the pectoral muscles, depending on the extent of sculpting needed in the upper abdominal area. A canula, or small, hollow tube, is inserted to remove fat along the predetermined paths to outline the natural muscle contours. The procedure usually only takes one to two hours to perform. The small incisions generally leave little scarring, and are often hidden by natural body creases.
After surgery, patients will be given an elastic compression garment to help minimize swelling. Some swelling is normal, however, and there may be some bruising. The compression garment is typically worn for a few weeks, and is only removed for bathing. Any post-surgical pain can be handled with medication, and patients will receive additional postoperative instructions; these usually include not lifting more than 10 pounds, and not exercising for a specified period of time. Normal activity can often be resumed within a week or two.
Results may take up to six months to be fully visible, although improvements will be noticeable as the body heals. Patients who work out regularly, and those with exceptional skin tone, may see some noticeable results within hours after surgery. For results to last, the patient must maintain good health and physical tone. With proper care and exercise, the sculpting can remain visible for many years.
As with any surgery, there are risks involved with abdominal etching. Infection, bleeding and scarring may occur, along with complications from anesthesia. No surgery should be taken lightly. Patients should thoroughly discuss any questions they have, and be certain they understand the risks involved.
Abdominal etching is considered a cosmetic procedure, meaning medical insurance will not cover the cost. Total fees for the facility, anesthesia and for the surgeon may run anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the extent of the procedure being done, and whether the etching technique is combined with another procedure. Plastic surgeons may offer financing plans to allow patients to obtain the procedure without upfront payment.
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