Arm Lift Surgery: Everything You Need to Know

After extensive weight loss, it's not unusual for loose skin to make it difficult to fully enjoy the results of your hard work. To remove excess skin and contour the upper arm, many people choose to undergo a brachioplasty, or arm lift surgery. Here's some background on what to expect before, during, and after this popular cosmetic procedure.

Marking for arm lift surgery

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What Is Arm Lift Surgery?

An arm lift is an elective surgery that can greatly improve the quality of life for patients with sagging skin. Surgery options range from a mini arm lift to an extended arm lift with either level involving general anesthesia and some mandatory recovery time.

Liposuction may or may not be included as part of the procedure based on your individual case and desired result.

Schedule your arm lift surgery with a board-certified plastic surgeon to ensure the best possible results.

Contraindications

As a first step before surgery, you'll have a consultation with a plastic surgeon to determine your eligibility for an arm lift. If the amount of sagging skin is not significant enough to warrant the procedure, you may be steered in a different direction.

Increasing your level of resistance training to build muscle mass under the skin can improve the appearance of your arms. Liposuction without skin removal decreases underlying fat tissue with minimal scarring, which many patients are satisfied with in lieu of a more invasive brachioplasty.

Patients who are not healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia will be denied surgery. Because an arm lift is mainly cosmetic, it must present a clear benefit versus cost in order for a reputable surgeon to approve of the procedure.

Risking a heart attack or respiratory failure for an elective procedure would never be recommended. However, if you don't pass the pre-op physical, you may be able to make changes and get approved surgery at a later time.

If poor management of a chronic condition (such as diabetes or high blood pressure) is holding you back from arm lift surgery, lifestyle changes to improve your health can create an opportunity for surgery in the future. An arm lift may serve as a motivator to work towards healthier habits.

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, the best candidates for skin removal surgery are:

  • Able to take off time for recovery: Rushing back to work or exercise too quickly puts patients in danger and can compromise their results.
  • At their goal weight: Significant weight fluctuations can produce more sagging skin and reduce long-term patient satisfaction with skin removal surgery.
  • In good general health: Chronic conditions must be well-controlled for optimal outcomes and recovery from arm lift surgery.
  • Realistic about their expectations: Arm lift surgery will leave scars. Seeing before and after pictures of real patients can provide a good understanding of what to expect.

Potential Risks

Along with the risk of infection, poor wound healing, and numbness (which are common in most types of surgery) the potential risks of an arm lift procedure include:

  • Skin tightness (which should subside as the swelling goes down)
  • Unsightly scarring that shifts to an area where it is more visible

Scarring is inevitable with arm lift surgery, but following your wound care instructions and protecting the area from sunburns will help scars to fade with time.

Purpose of an Arm Lift Procedure

People with sagging skin from significant weight loss, or related to aging, may choose to have an arm lift. Depending on the amount of loose skin, your surgeon will recommend either an extended arm lift, a full arm lift, or a mini arm lift.

Patients who have lost a significant amount of weight (typically from gastric bypass or another type of weight loss surgery) are more likely to require an extended or full arm lift. To reshape and tighten arms that sag as the result of aging or moderate weight loss, a mini arm lift may be sufficient.

Some patients may opt for liposuction of the arms rather than an arm lift to avoid scarring. Although liposuction can remove fat tissue and make the area appear slimmer, liposuction alone won't get rid of excess skin. A board-certified plastic surgeon will be able to advise you on the best course of treatment to reach your desired outcome.

How to Prepare

Before the procedure, it's a good idea to get your living space organized so you'll have easy access to everyday items once you're back home recovering.

Location

Plan to be in the operating room at the hospital for your arm lift procedure. Because you'll be put under general anesthesia, an anesthesiologist, medical assistants, nurses, and your surgeon will collaborate to make your surgery a success.

What to Wear

Wear clothing that is loose and comfortable. Pull-on pants, slip-on shoes, and a shirt that doesn't need to be pulled over your head will be easier to change in and out of. Your surgeon may place drains at your incision sites, so darker clothing that doesn't show stains is preferable for after the procedure.

Food and Drink

If you're having general anesthesia for your arm lift surgery, you must follow your doctor's instructions about pre-operative food and drink. You'll probably be advised to stop eating at least eight hours before your scheduled arrival time. Clear liquids are usually restricted within two hours of the procedure.

If you have any questions about eating or drinking before your operation, be sure to call the surgeon's office and ask. Otherwise, you may risk having to delay the procedure to avoid dangerous complications.

Medications

To prepare for arm lift surgery, you'll need to temporarily discontinue anti-inflammatory medications, aspirin, and herbal supplements that increase bleeding risk.

Other medications that you're prescribed may need to be adjusted prior to your surgery. Your doctor will give you clear instructions on when to stop certain prescriptions to ensure your safety during an arm lift.

Always inform your doctor of any medications that you're taking to avoid complications during arm lift surgery.

What to Bring

It's best to leave your valuables, including jewelry, at home on your surgery day. Arrange for someone to drive you home after the surgery and bring any necessary paperwork, along with a post-surgery change of clothes.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

Stop smoking before surgery to improve wound healing and reduce the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular complications. Wait to schedule your arm lift surgery until you're confident that your weight will remain stable for the long term.

Work on getting into a regular routine with exercise and a sustainable nutrition plan for weight maintenance before going under the knife.

What to Expect on the Day of Surgery

Here's what you can expect to happen as you head into your arm lift appointment.

Before the Surgery

Brachioplasty is usually performed under general anesthesia but local sedation may be possible if your surgeon deems it appropriate. If you're getting general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will meet with you before the procedure to review the risks of anesthesia and have you sign paperwork.

Your vital signs will be taken and monitored throughout the procedure. For patients on local sedation, the surgeon will administer it a few minutes before they begin operating.

During the Surgery

The techniques used in surgery will depend on whether you're having an extended, a full, or a mini arm lift. An extended arm lift involves an incision from your armpit to your chest. Your doctor may create a curved or Z-shaped cut to reduce scarring.

In a full arm lift, your doctor will begin cutting at the armpit and continue down your arm until reaching the elbow. For a mini arm lift, your surgeon will make a much smaller incision that's limited to the armpit area. Mini arm lifts are less invasive and the resulting scarring is easier to conceal.

Depending on your situation, liposuction may or may not be recommended as part of your brachioplasty. Overall, the procedure takes two to three hours.

Discuss surgical techniques with your doctor before your scheduled arm lift so you'll understand how the procedure will be performed.

After the Surgery

Your surgeon will complete your arm lift surgery by closing the incision with absorbable sutures or stitches that need to be taken out within one to two weeks of your procedure.

Once your surgery is complete and your vitals are stable, your doctor will clear you to be discharged with a friend or family member who can drive you home and stay with you for at least one night after the operation.

Recovery

Most people can perform light activity after a few days of recovery from arm lift surgery. Within three to four weeks, you can resume strenuous exercise as long as your doctor approves.

You'll want to give yourself some time off work to recover from the anesthesia and take it easy at home. Depending on the nature of your job, you can plan to resume work within a week.

Healing

Swelling is common after most surgical procedures, and an arm lift is no different. You may notice skin tightness in the early days of healing from an arm lift surgery. Your surgeon will provide you with compression garments to keep swelling under control. Keeping your arms elevated can also help.

As soon as the anesthesia wears off, you'll be able to resume your regular diet. It's common to have a bit of nausea when coming off sedation, but this should dissipate within 24 to 48 hours.

Getting enough protein will help your body heal. If you don't feel like eating, consider a protein shake or a smoothie with protein powder to give your body a recovery boost.

Your surgeon will provide specific instructions on bathing after surgery. Generally, it's best to keep your wounds dry. You'll be advised to avoid bathing (and swimming) until your incisions are fully healed. Wait for clearance from your doctor to reduce the risk of infection.

Coping With Recovery

Take pain medications as prescribed by your doctor to stay ahead of pain management. It can be helpful to set a reminder on your phone to maintain the right schedule for timing your meds. Luckily, most of the pain should resolve within a week of arm lift surgery.

Give your body the downtime it needs after an arm lift surgery to ensure proper healing. If you're the type to get bored at home, consider ways to keep yourself busy and prepare ahead of time. Keep books, puzzles, movies, and other entertainment on hand for after your surgery.

Although you might not be physically able to go to work in person, talk to your boss about doing some work from home if you're anxious to get back on a schedule.

If you're an extrovert who craves socialization, use the time at home to catch up on phone calls with loved ones. As long as you don't derail the healing process by rushing back into physical activity, you should be back in action in no time.

Long Term Care

Once you recover from arm lift surgery you'll want to do everything possible to maintain the results. Aim to keep your weight stable and begin a regular exercise routine when you're ready.

Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburns which can make scarring worse and lead to collagen breakdown, reducing skin elasticity.

Possible Future Surgeries

If you're having an arm lift in response to losing a lot of weight, you may decide to have additional skin removal surgeries on other areas of the body.

These can include procedures like:

A lower body lift is a more extensive surgery that tightens several areas in one operation. Your surgeon will help you decide which surgeries are best for your body type and advise you on whether it's safe to perform multiple surgeries simultaneously or if it's better to space them out.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Once you have an arm lift surgery, (with or without accompanying surgeries to remove excess skin), you'll want to maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep your hard-earned new shape. Monitor your body weight weekly and keep up with regular doctor's visits to avoid major changes that will compromise your results.

If you find your weight creeping back up, meet with a registered dietitian or mental health counselor to get support, and address underlying issues before they grow into a larger setback.

A Word From Verywell

Achieving major weight loss is an important accomplishment. To fully reap the rewards of your lifestyle change, an arm lift or other excess skin removal surgery can improve your mobility, comfort, and self-esteem.

For many, skin removal surgery is a reward for the effort that went into losing weight and maintaining it. Understanding the ins and outs of arm lift surgery (including the tough but temporary period of recovery afterward) will help you prepare for the next step ahead.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Thinking about arm lift surgery? Facts you should know. Updated May 8, 2017.

  2. American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Skin removal after weight loss.

  3. Vinings Surgery Center, Robert A. Colgrove Jr. MD. About brachioplasty (arm lift) plastic surgery.

  4. UCLA Health. When to stop eating and drinking.

  5. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Arm lift, brachioplasty.

  6. Boston Plastic Surgery. Arm lift.