Understanding Thigh Lift Surgery

Reviewed by Siamak Agha-Mohammadi, MD, PhD

Flabby thighs may remain after massive weight loss from bariatric surgery. Thighplasty can help. This plastic surgery procedure can reduce the amount of excess skin and fat in the thigh area, resulting in a slim, toned and taut thigh.

The aim of the thigh lift is to create thighs that are in proportion to the individual's buttocks, abdomen and legs. From the rear view, the thigh and buttock are separated by a distinctly defined fold.

The front view should be smooth, highlighting the muscles. Ideally, the inner thigh should be flat and firm.

Thigh Lift Varieties

There are a few different types of thigh lifts. The main variable is the incision type.

Inner thigh lift. The most popular type of thigh lift is the inner (medial) thigh lift. This procedure involves an incision in the groin fold. It is ideal for people with only a moderate amount of excess skin and fat in the thigh area. To perform an inner thigh lift, the surgeon lifts the skin on the thigh and tightens it.

Vertical thighplasty. During a vertical thighplasty procedure, the surgeon starts the incision at the groin, and extends to the inner knee. A wedge of skin is removed from the inner thigh during a vertical thighplasty. This may yield visible scarring. People who have a lot of fat and loose skin may be candidates for vertical thighplasty.

Outer thigh lift. The outer thigh lift is a thigh lift involving an incision that extends from the groin around the hip.

Spiral thighplasty. A newer technique, spiral thighplasty, reshapes the front, back, inner and outer areas of the thigh. During the spiral thighplasty procedure, an incision is made below the buttocks, extending to the groin crease (where the thigh and pubic area meet). This plastic surgery procedure may be beneficial for those who have lost massive amounts weight.

Thigh Lift Surgery Combinations

In certain situations, several types of thigh lift surgery are performed simultaneously to elicit the best results. The decision to undergo combination thigh lift surgery depends on the quality of your skin, the areas requiring treatment, how much fat and skin need to be excised, your preferences and your doctor's expertise.

Thighplasty also can be performed at the same time as some other surgical procedures, like liposuction or lower body lift

Thigh Lift Procedure

The basic components of a thigh lift are similar, regardless of the type(s) you choose.

The plastic surgery procedure is usually done with general anesthesia (you won't be conscious) or twilight anesthesia (conscious sedation). The necessary thigh lift incision(s) is made, followed by the actual lift or excision. Deep support stitches that aid in forming and supporting the new shape of your thigh will probably be used during the surgery.

Time in surgery as well as time in hospital vary depending on the extent of the treatment.

Thigh Lift Recovery and Results

Your thighs will be appear smoother, tighter and more contoured immediately following surgery. That said, there will be some bruising, swelling and soreness as well. This can be minimized with certain nutritional supplements, like arnica and bromelain. Talk to your doctor to find out what he or she recommends. You also need to discuss the medications you are taking (prescription, non-prescription and supplements) with your surgeon to make sure they are OK and will not compromise your safety or the results of your thigh lift.

For the first two or three days after the procedure, you may feel some discomfort or tightness. Your surgeon can write you a prescription for the pain.

It can take three to five weeks for the swelling in your thighs and lower body to lessen. Wearing a compression garment will aid in the tightening and shrinking of your skin, and protect the incision.

Drainage tubes to help get rid of excess fluid and to reduce swelling will also be inserted. The tubes can be removed safely once the amount of fluid wanes. To minimize tension along the line of your incision, your surgeon will probably tell you to keep your legs slightly bent at the hips during that first week post-surgery. This will also help to reduce pain and lessen any scarring.

Wear gauze pads over the incisions in your groin to keep them dry. Your surgeon will provide information on when and how to change the wound dressings.

Showering is OK three days after thigh lift. Schedule a follow up visit with your doctor approximately one week after your surgery, or sooner if necessary. It is important to start walking as soon as possible after your thighplasty. Early mobility can lessen your risk of developing a potentially fatal blood clot in your leg.

Your doctor will tell you when it's OK to get back to exercising and your normal routines. This time varies based on the extent of the thigh lift and your personal fitness level and goals.

Risks of Thighplasty

Any medical procedure comes with risks. Thigh lifts are no different. Scarring, bleeding infection, fluid accumulation and poor wound healing may occur. Other risks include blood clots, numbness, skin discoloration, fat necrosis (death of fat tissue) or an adverse reaction to anesthesia.

There also could be major wound separation, persistent pain and/or recurrent skin looseness. In addition, there is a chance you may not be satisfied with the cosmetic results of your thigh lift.

The Cost of Thigh Lift Surgery

In 2008, the national average for the cost of a thigh lift was slightly more than $4,500, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Other costs include the anesthesia fee and the operating room fee.

Some bariatric surgery procedures may be considered to be purely cosmetic, and therefore not covered by most insurance policies. This insurance policy is paralleled in other areas of medicine such as dentistry. For example, dental insurance plans do not often cover treatments like Lumineers or offset the cost of veneers.

Select a Board-certified Plastic Surgeon

Selecting the correct surgeon can be a big factor in how satisfied you are with the results of your thigh lift. Opt for a surgeon who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This means that your surgeon has extensive training and is well versed on new technology and techniques in the field. Viewing before and after plastic surgery photos can also help you choose the right doctor and manage your expectations.

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.