Arm Lift Surgery - Tighten Those Flabby Arms

Reviewed by Siamak Agha-Mohammadi, MD, PhD

You have gone through so much to get rid of that excess weight all over your body, but now you are left with droopy, sagging upper arms. You lost the weight to get healthy, but you want to feel attractive too. An arm lift (brachioplasty) can help. This popular plastic surgery procedure can make your arms look beautiful by getting rid of the excess skin and flab.

Arm Lift Candidacy

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, arm lift surgery is one of the four most frequently performed body contouring procedures following massive weight loss.

People who have lost a significant amount of weight tend to end up with excess flab, or "bat wings," hanging under their arms. "Bat wings" occur when the soft tissue of the arm becomes lax and ptotic (saggy).

Thin people also may develop saggy arms and can be candidates for an arm lift. Sagging arm tissue can be a result of aging or genetics. Even people who exercise on a regular basis may have trouble getting rid of the excess, sagging skin that develops under the arms.

Getting Ready for Your Arm Lift

Prior to your arm lift, you will receive a list of preoperative instructions from your plastic surgeon. If you are a smoker, you will be advised to quit prior to the procedure because it can cause problems with wound healing. Your doctor also will advise you to stop taking certain medications, vitamins or homeopathic products that increase your risk of bleeding. This may include aspirin, ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Certain supplements, when taken prior to surgery, may help to reduce swelling and bruising. Arnica and bromelain are good examples. Your surgeon may suggest a high-protein diet to help speed up healing. Discuss an optimal nutritional regimen with your surgeon prior to your arm lift.

Arm Lift Surgery

The arm lift procedure usually takes one to three hours to complete. The amount of time your surgery takes depends on the extent of the lift. You may be given a local anesthetic with intravenous sedation, in which case you will be conscious but unaware; or your surgeon may prescribe general anesthesia, meaning you will be unconscious.

If you have smooth skin and just a little flab, liposuction may do the trick. If you have a large amount of fat, or sun-damaged and/or poor-quality skin, an arm lift may be needed to see any substantial improvements.

Your arm lift surgeon will make incisions either on the inside or on the back of your arm. The incision may span from your underarm to just above your elbow. A minimal incision arm lift only requires incisions in the area where the inner, upper arms join the armpit.

If you only have a small amount of skin around your armpit, you may be a candidate for a minimal incision arm lift. Some people, including those who have lost massive amounts of weight following a weight loss surgery such as gastric bypass or Lap Band, may have a lot more excess, sagging skin in the arm area. This may require an incision that spans from the elbow, along the arm pit and onto the side of the chest.

The pattern of the incision – different for everyone – is based on the extent of the surgery as well as your surgeon's preferred treatment method.

After the incision is made, liposuction can be used to remove excess fat, if necessary, The next step involves excising (trimming) the hanging skin and then tightening and suturing the skin that remains. (The sutures may be self-absorbing, or they may need to be removed within a week or two of your surgery.)

Arm Lift Recovery

Your arm will appear trim and toned right away. That said, there may be some swelling and bruising at first. Expect some pain after the procedure. If needed, your doctor can prescribe a painkiller.

The worst swelling usually occurs the first two or three days after the arm lift, and, for most people, is gone in a few weeks. One way to help reduce the swelling during your recovery period is to keep your arms elevated with a pillow.

You may be given a prescription for a compression garment that will help your skin adhere to the tissues beneath it.

Postoperative instructions are different for each person, but you will probably be able to go back to work two or three weeks after your surgery. You will likely be told to avoid strenuous exercise for approximately one month, and to avoid heavy lifting for six weeks. You will be allowed to shower one week after the procedure. Many people may opt to further perfect their arms after they have healed from their arm lift. Laser hair removal, for example, can permanently eliminate hair on the under arms, upper arms and forearms.

Arm Lift Risks

Any medical procedure comes with the risk of complications. Some of the problems that could result from an arm lift include loss of sensation, hand swelling, infection, hematoma, scarring, seromas (fluid-filled masses along the line of the incision) or a reaction to the anesthesia.

Choosing the right board-certified plastic surgeon makes a difference in your satisfaction and the results of your arm lift. Board certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery means that the surgeon is well-schooled, experienced and aware of the newest plastic surgery techniques and technology.

Ask to see before and after pictures of previous arm lift patients to get an idea of what you can expect if this surgeon performs your arm lift.

Cost of Arm Lift Surgery

The cost of the arm lift surgery comprises:

  • Surgeon's fee (the national average is $3,953 according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.)
  • Anesthesia fee
  • Operating room fee
  • Liposuction cost, if applicable

About the Reviewer of This Article

Siamak Agha-Mohammadi, MD, PhD, FACS, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Orange County, California. He received his medical degree and completed his doctor of philosophy degree at the University of Cambridge in England and did his residencies in general surgery and plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. An expert in aesthetic surgery after massive weight loss, Dr. Agha-Mohammadi has published articles in many prestigious journals and is a frequent presenter at major medical meetings.