Fluctuations in weight, aging and even heredity can cause changes in appearance that you might not expect. One such change that can occur in the upper arm results in a droopy, sagging, batwing-like appearance. Fitness may strengthen and improve underlying muscle tone of the upper arm, but it cannot address excess skin that has lost elasticity or underlying weakened tissues and localized fat deposits.
If the underside of your upper arms has developed sagging, droopy skin, or appears loose and full due to excess skin and fat, an arm lift may be right for you. In general, an arm lift reduces excess skin and underlying fat that occurs between underarm region in the elbow, reshaping the arm to result in smoother skin and more normal contours. An arm lift results in a more toned and proportionate appearance, enhancing your self-confidence and expanding your fashion choices. The trade-off to your improved image is a resulting scar on the inside of your upper arm.
This web page presents an overview of arm lift, technically called brachioplasty. The best way to learn how an arm lift can help fulfill your personal goals is a consultation with a plastic surgeon certified by the American Board of plastic surgery.
What is an arm lift?
An arm lift is a surgical procedure that reshapes the under portion of the upper arm, and the underarm region to the elbow. This procedure is performed to:
- Reduce excess sagging skin that droops downward when arms are extended away from the body
- Tighten and smooth the underlying supportive tissue that defines the shape of the upper arm
In addition, any localized pockets of fat in the upper arm region may be reduced through brachioplasty, most commonly in conjunction with liposuction techniques.
The conditions treated with an arm lift may develop in both men and women, most often due to a loss of elasticity in the skin and underlying tissue of the upper arm. This may be the result of significant weight loss and skin that has been so stretched it loses the ability to retract. Conditions may also result from the natural changes that occur with aging, heredity or a combination of these conditions.
An arm lift cannot correct weakened muscles of the upper arm; in fact many individuals who seek surgery are relatively fit individuals who are bothered by a condition that cannot be corrected through exercise. In general, good candidates for an arm lift are:
- Adults of any age whose weight is relatively stable and who are not significantly overweight
- Healthy individuals who do not have medical conditions that can impair healing or increase risk of surgery
- Individuals with a positive outlook and realistic goals for what an arm lift can accomplish
- Individuals committed to leading a healthy lifestyle of proper nutrition and fitness
Where do I begin?
A consultation with your plastic surgeon is the first step to learn how and on what can help you achieve a smoother and more normal contour of the arm. A consultation is designed to fully educate you about brachioplasty in a non-pressured environment, and will include:
- A discussion of your goals and an evaluation of the individual case
- The options available for an arm left
- The likely outcomes of brachioplasty and any associated risks or potential complications
- The course of treatment recommended by your plastic surgeon
Overall health and personal outlook can greatly impact the outcome of arm lift surgery. These will be carefully evaluated in a consultation with your plastic surgeon. The success of your procedure, safety and overall satisfaction require that you:
- Honestly share your expectations
- Fully disclose health history, current medications, the use of vitamins, herbal supplements, alcohol, tobacco and drugs
- Commit to precisely following all of your plastic surgeon's instructions
Your Arm Lift
An arm lift is a safe and satisfying procedure that can greatly improve the appearance of your upper arm. The procedure begins with an incision placed in the inside of the upper arm. The incision may extend from the underarm to the elbow, or be more limited in length. Incision length and pattern depend on the amount and location of excess skin to be removed, as well as the preferences and surgical judgment of your plastic surgeon.
If fat will be reduced during your arm lift, it will be excised or treated with liposuction techniques. The underlying supportive tissues are tightened and reshaped with internal sutures. Overlying skin is then smoothed over the new contour of your arm, with excess skin reduced. Your incisions will be closed with absorbable sutures, or stitches that will be removed within one to two weeks following your arm lift.
The trade off to an improved body contour and image through an arm lift is a resulting scar on the inside portion of your upper arm. In addition, uneven contours can develop in the arm after surgery. In some cases, skin elasticity is so poor that relapse of the skin is possible.
Preparing for Surgery
Your plastic surgeon will carefully explain the technique for your arm lift. Prior to any surgery, you will be given specific instructions that may include:
- Pre-surgical considerations, diagnostic testing and medications
- Day of surgery instructions and medications
- Specific information related to the use of anesthesia
- Postoperative care and follow up
In addition, you will be asked to sign consent forms to assure your plastic surgeon that you fully understand the procedure or procedures you will undergo and any associated risks and potential complications.
Possible risks of an arm lift include bleeding, infection, fluid accumulation, delayed or poor healing, skin loss, blood clots, excessive or widened scars, numbness and other changes in skin sensation and irregular or asymmetric contour or scars. Any surgery carries risks associated with anesthesia. These risks and others will be fully disclosed prior to your consent.
It is important that you address all your questions directly with your plastic surgeon. It is natural to feel some anxiety, whether excitement for the anticipated outcomes or preoperative stress. Discuss these feelings with your plastic surgeon.
What to Expect
Brachioplasty may be performed in your surgeon’s accredited office-based surgical facility, an ambulatory surgical facility or a hospital, possibly with an overnight hospital stay. Procedures are most commonly performed under general anesthesia, although local anesthesia with sedation may be used. These decisions will be based on the requirements of your specific procedure and considerations of patient and surgeon preference.
Once your arm lift is completed, dressing or bandages will be applied to your incisions, and your arms may be wrapped in an elastic bandage to minimize swelling and to support your new contours as you heal. Small, thin tubes may be temporarily placed under the skin to drain excess fluid or blood that may collect. Before you are released following surgery, you and an accompanying responsible family member, friend or caregiver will be given specific instructions that may include:
- How to care for the surgical site and drains
- Medications to apply or take orally to aid healing and reduce the potential for infection
- Specific concerns to look for at the surgical site or in overall health
- When to follow-up with your plastic surgeon
Progress and healing
Following your arm lift, your arms will be swollen and bruised, and you will experience some discomfort. Discomfort is common and can be controlled with medication. You will be instructed to keep your arms elevated for several days following surgery and return to light walking as soon as possible to minimize the potential for blood clots and other complications.
You will also be instructed to avoid lifting or bearing any weight on your arms for several days to weeks. Your surgeon may also advise you to limit your range of motion until internal healing is complete. You will be ready to return to work and light, normal activities within a few days, as long as you do not engage in any lifting or vigorous exercise. Follow all instructions carefully – this is essential to the success of your outcome.
Your incisions will heal within 7-14 days, after which time sutures will be removed if necessary. Additional healing will continue for many weeks as swelling resolves and incision lines continue to improve. Numbness and a firm feeling over the skin's surface will resolve over time. You must practice diligent sun protection until the healing process is fully completed or skin in the treated area may develop irregular pigmentation and scars may become raised, red or dark. It may take a year or more following a given procedure for incision lines to refine and fade to some degree. Continue to follow your plastic surgeon's instructions and attend follow-up visits as scheduled.
Results and Outlook
The dramatic improvement in arm contour following arm lift surgery can greatly enhance your body image. A smooth, toned arm that matches your body image and personal goals does, however, come with visible scars. This is a fair trade-off to achieving a body contour that matches your body weight and proportion.
The results of arm lift will be long-lasting, provided that you maintain a stable weight and general fitness. As your body ages, it is natural to lose some firmness. However, most of your improvement should be relatively permanent.