Arm Lift (Brachioplasty)
As part of the natural aging process, skin gradually loses its elasticity. As a result, the skin settles into folds and wrinkles. Along the underside of the upper arm, loss of elasticity can lead to hanging skin that has the unflattering nickname “bat wings.” Weight loss can accentuate this issue. If you wish you had slimmer and more toned looking upper arms, brachioplasty (also known as an “arm lift”) may be a procedure for you.
Brachioplasty is one of the most rapidly growing body contouring surgeries; according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), between the years 2000 and 2019 there was a 5,318% increase in the number of these procedures performed each year in the U.S. (1)
The procedure involves surgically removing excessive skin and/or body fat from the upper arm to reshape and contour the area. The procedure is performed with a general anesthetic and usually takes about two hours. It is most often chosen by people to improve their look after massive weight loss has left them with excessive skin dangling from their upper arm.
There are a variety of techniques for performing brachioplasty, ranging from simple liposuction to remove fat, to a variety of surgical approaches to remove excess skin and fat from the upper arm, sometimes continuing into the chest wall.
Two thirds of people who have a brachioplasty also have other procedures done concurrently, while they are already under an anesthetic. (2) The procedures most commonly combined with an arm lift are: (2)
- Tummy tuck
- Breast lift with or without breast augmentation
- Thighplasty (removal of excess skin and fat from the thighs)
- Lower body lift
- Facial procedures
- Breast reduction
If you are self-conscious about the way your upper arms look due to excess skin, or wearing sleeveless shirts or other clothing that reveal your arms makes you feel uncomfortable, then an arm lift may be right for you.
Arm lifts are generally applicable to people who have lost a huge amount of weight, or have a condition known as “lipodystrophy” (abnormal body-fat distribution) and are left with a lot of excessive skin dangling from their upper arm (“bat wings”). (3)
The amount of excess skin present and your desired outcome will determine the type of brachioplasty procedure that will be chosen. (3)
Ideal candidates are non-smokers in good overall health. They still have some skin elasticity remaining, which helps the skin adjust to its new contours. While the best outcomes tend to be on people who are at or near their ideal weight, this procedure may also be performed on those who are still overweight.
The initial consultation involves discussing your specific concerns and outcome expectations with the surgeon. The surgeon will examine you, discuss the procedure (if any) that would best suit your goals, and will discuss the potential risks and side effects of the surgery.
On the day of the surgery, the surgeon will make accurate pre-operative markings on your arms to use as a guide during the procedure, and will check with you to ensure that you are satisfied with the plan. (3)
To begin the surgery, the surgeon will create an incision. Usually, this is located in the armpit, where any resulting scar can be easily hidden. If more extensive fat deposits or excess skin will be removed from the lower arm, the surgeon may need to create a more extensive incision running along the inside of the arm along the targeted area. (3)
Next, the surgeon will remove the excess skin and deposits of fatty tissue. Most arm lift procedures use traditional surgical methods; however, liposuction surgery can also be used if large areas of excess fat are targeted for removal.
After the excess tissue has been removed and the remaining tissues have been sculpted by the surgeon, the incision is closed with sutures.
As with any surgical procedure, arm lifts include some risks and potential side effects. A large study of adverse effects of arm lift surgery showed that major complications occurred in 3.4% of cases. These data include combined surgeries, where individuals have more than one procedure done during their arm lift. The overall complication rate for arm lift alone was 1.3%, and for combined procedures 4.4%. These complications included: (2)
- Infection (1.7%)
- Hematoma (1.1%)
- Venous thromboembolism (blood clots) (0.4%)
- Blood pressure drop (0.1%)
- Cardiac complications (0.04%)
Minor complications included: (4)
- Pocket of fluid under the skin (seroma) (6.9%)
- Hypertrophic scarring (raised, enlarged scar) (10.79%)
- Wound re-opening and delayed healing (5.72%)
- Asymmetry between the arms (frequency not reported)
- Skin laxity recurrence (frequency not reported)
- Nerve damage (1.5%)
As well – as with any surgery – there are also risks associated with the anesthesia. Some of these complications may require a revision surgery if they occur.
After surgery, the skin of the arms may feel as though it is stretched too tight; however, this feeling should subside as the tissues become used to their new contours.
There is also a risk of visible scarring, particularly in more extensive procedures that require an incision running the length of the arm. Nerve damage that occurs as the surgeon cuts away excess tissue could lead to temporary or permanent numbness or changes in skin sensitivity.
Instructions for after-care may vary slightly from surgeon to surgeon, and depend on the exact type of procedure used, whether other procedures were done concurrently, and how well you are doing post-operatively.
Immediately following the surgery, the physician will place steri-strips (small pieces of medical tape) over the wound to assist with closure, as well as a bolero-type compression garment. (3) The steri-strips are kept in place for two weeks, and then are replaced with Micropore brown tape for one more week. The surgeon will follow your wound healing and scar formation carefully, and may recommend special silicone tape and/or spray and compression for another four months.
You will likely be instructed to avoid bending your elbow for the first 24 hours, and to avoid strenuous activity for two weeks. Swelling all the way down the arm is almost certain, so you should avoid wearing rings or any other tight clothing or jewellery for at least the first two weeks, or until the swelling resolves. (3) Keeping your arm raised and frequently massaging the fluid from your arm will help reduce the swelling.
Most patients take at least a week off work and other obligations to heal, but this depends on the level of activity that their job requires and how well they are healing. It is common to experience soreness, tenderness, tightness, bruising, swelling, and redness as the arms heal, so you should plan your activities accordingly.
The cost for arm lift surgery can range from $5,000-$8,000, which typically includes the surgeon’s fee, anesthesia, medical tests, and the surgical center (operating room and recovery room fees). According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the average surgeon’s fee for brachioplasty in 2019 was $4,550. (1)
The exact cost of a brachioplasty depends upon several factors, including:
- The amount of fat and/or skin to be removed
- The particular surgeon chosen
- The geographical location
- The type of procedure used (for example, arm lift procedures requiring an incision down the length of the arm to target tissues in both the upper and lower arm tend to be more expensive than upper arm surgery performed through an incision in the armpit)
- Whether or not other procedures are done concurrently
Ready to take the next step?
To learn if you are a candidate for arm lift surgery, contact a plastic surgeon near you to setup a consultation.
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). (2019). Plastic surgery statistics report. Retrieved from https://www.plasticsurgery.org/documents/News/Statistics/2019/plastic-surgery-statistics-full-report-2019.pdf
- Nguyen, L., Gupta, V., Afshari, A., Shack, R., Grotting, J., & Higdon, K. (2016). Incidence and risk factors of major complications in brachioplasty: Analysis of 2,294 patients. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 36(7), 792–803. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/asj/article/36/7/792/2664540
- Egrari, S. (2016). Brachioplasty: A personal approach. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 36(2), 193–203. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/asj/article/36/2/193/2589260
- Sisti, A., Cuomo, R., Milonia, L., Tassinari, J., Castagna, A., Brandi, C., et al. (2018). Complications associated with brachioplasty: A literature review. Acta Bio-medica, 88(4), 393–402. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6166161/