What is an arm lift?
An arm lift, sometimes called an brachioplasty, is a type of cosmetic surgery. It treats sagging underarms by reducing extra skin, tightening and smoothing tissue, and removing extra fat. This can make your upper arms look more toned and defined.
Aging and genetics both play a role in the development of sagging skin. You might also be left with extra skin after losing a lot of weight. Regardless of what’s causing your sagging skin, there are several things to keep in mind when considering an arm lift.
You can take steps in the weeks and months before surgery to make your arm lift as safe and effective as possible. If you smoke, quitting one to two months before surgery can greatly reduce your risk of complications.
For example, a common smoking-related complication is slow wound healing, which increases your risk of infection. Work with your doctor to come up with a plan to quit smoking before having surgery.
Several weeks before your arm lift, your doctor will give you a preoperative evaluation. They’ll make sure you’re ready for surgery by looking at your current health and medical history. This is also a great time to ask your doctor any questions or bring up any concerns you have about the arm lift.
They’ll start by checking for any underlying medical conditions that could make surgery dangerous.
Your preoperative evaluation might also include:
- lab work
- a chest X-ray
- an electrocardiogram
- a prescription for preoperative medication
- adjusting your dose of current medications and supplements
The results of your preoperative evaluation will help you doctor figure out the safest approach for surgery. You’ll also need to stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), two weeks before surgery.
On the day of your surgery, your doctor starts by marking your arm where they plan to make incisions. There are several ways of performing an arm lift, but the most common ones involve incisions on the inside or back your arms. Other options include an armpit incision or one that extends from the top of your elbow to your armpit.
You’re then given either local or general anesthesia, depending on the surgical method your doctor chooses. Guided by the marks they made on your arm, your doctor goes in and tightens or reshapes the tissue in your upper arm. They then pull your skin back over the tissue and close the surgical wound with stitches.
If there are extra pockets of fat that might make it hard for your arm to fully heal, your doctor may use liposuction at the same time to remove that fat. The entire procedure is usually done within three hours.
After having surgery, you’ll need someone to drive you home from the appointment and stay with you overnight to make sure you don’t have any problems.
Like all surgeries, an arm lift comes with some risks. In addition to pain and infection, you might also have:
- excessive bleeding
- permanent scarring
- fluid buildup
- nerve, muscle, or blood vessel damage
- fatty tissue death
General anesthesia also carries its own risks, including:
- heart attack
- death in rare cases
A very small percentage of people remain partially awake under general anesthesia. Make sure you go over possible risks with your doctor so you can learn how to recognize them and get treatment. Learn about the 10 most common plastic surgery complications.
While you recover from surgery, you might need to wear a compression garment to control swelling. Your doctor might also insert a temporary drainage tube in your arm to drain any fluid or blood that builds up after surgery.
Your doctor will give you postoperative care instructions to take home. These will cover how to take care of your wounds, which medications to take and when, warning signs to look for, and a timeline for follow-up appointments.
It’s important to also avoid smoking while you recover from an arm lift. Smoking slows down the healing process, which raises your risk of developing permanent scarring or infections.
You should be able to return to work or school and resume some activities within two weeks. Within six weeks, you should be able to return to your normal activity level. Tell your doctor about any pain or problems moving after the initial recovery period.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of an arm lift is $4,257. The cost may change based on your health and the extent of your surgery. You should also factor in extra money to cover any complications, follow-up procedures, or repeat surgeries you may need.
While it carries the same risks as other surgeries, you can improve your results by following your doctor’s instructions before and after surgery. You’ll eventually lose some firmness over time due to age, but the overall results should last for many years.
What medical conditions would make having an arm lift risky?
There are many conditions that make elective surgery, in general, and cosmetic surgery, in particular, more risky.
Brachioplasty should never be performed on someone who smokes. And, as for all elective plastic surgery procedures, all tobacco products (including vaping and nicotine gum and patches) should be stopped four to six weeks before surgery.
Patients with a history of connective tissue disorders (such as Elhers Danlos) may not be good candidates as the procedure involves extensive incisions, and these patients traditionally have a history of poor tissue quality as well as difficulties healing.
Similarly, patients on long-term oral steroids for medical conditions would not be good candidates for brachioplasty.
Who is a good candidate for an arm lift?
Healthy, nonsmoking patients with isolated resulting loose skin on the inside and back of the arms would be good candidates for this procedure.
Patients who have lost a considerable amount of weight should aim to maintain a stable weight for at least six months prior to consideration of brachioplasty or any other body contouring procedures.
Will I have any type of scarring? If so, will this heal?
The greatest consideration for this procedure is the extensive scarring that is somewhat difficult to conceal.
While a short-scar brachioplasty exists, this technique is limited to patients whose loose skin is at the upper posterior arm near the armpit. This scar can be hidden with short-sleeved shirts.
The more traditional brachioplasty scar extends from the armpit to the elbow either on the very back of the arm or on the inside, facing the chest wall. Therefore, the scar is longer and somewhat more difficult to hide in short-sleeved shirts.
However, for healthy patients who do not smoke, the scars should heal well and fade over time. Protecting the scars from sun exposure with sunscreen or long sleeves is key to helping the scars become as light as possible.