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FAQs about Arm Lift Surgery — What Patients Need to Know

Dr. Tara L. Huston | Stony Brook Plastic Surgeon
Dr. Tara L. Huston

In 2012, there were over 15,000 brachioplasties performed in the United States, according to new statistics just released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) . This is an increase from only 300 procedures done in 2000.

The dramatic rise in procedures performed — an increase of 4,378% in just over the last decade! — is likely related to the rise of bariatric surgery during the same time frame.

In addition, new technologies and surgical techniques have made it more reasonable to treat upper arms. Plastic surgeons can now offer more patients better results with less downtime.

Here, Tara L. Huston, MD, assistant professor of surgery and a member of our Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Division, answers frequently asked questions about arm lift surgery.

Q: What is brachioplasty?

A: It is the medical term for an arm lift. It means arm (brachio) reshaping (plasty).

Q: What is done in arm lift surgery?

A: The excess upper arm tissue, sometimes referred to as a "bat wing," is removed during brachioplasty. This is done using direct excision (removal by cutting) or a combination of liposuction followed by direct excision.

Q: Is liposuction always done as well?

A: Depending on the level of correction needed, liposuction may be required to achieve the final desired contour.

Q: Is arm lift surgery painful?

A: There is discomfort associated with all body contouring procedures. Most patients report that the pain is very tolerable. The great majority of patients are off of prescription pain medicine by a few days after surgery.

Q: What type of anesthesia is used for arm lift surgery?

A: Arm lifts are usually performed in the operating room under general anesthesia. Additionally, many surgeons inject additional local numbing medicine in the surgical area while you are asleep to provide additional postoperative pain control.

Q: Where is the incision made?

A: The incision will depend upon how much tissue needs to be removed and whether the tissue is near the armpit or lower down on the arm. The traditional vertical incision goes from the armpit to the elbow. If the excess tissue is limited to the top of the upper arm, you may be a candidate for a short-scar arm lift with a crescent-shaped incision in the armpit area.

Before/After Arm Lift Surgery
Before and after arm lift surgery (American Society of Plastic Surgeons;
click on photos to see more in ASPS gallery)

Q: Is there any scarring with arm lift surgery?

A: Yes, there is scarring associated with all body contouring procedures. Many physicians and patients believe this is the biggest downside to an arm lift.

Q: Where is the scar?

A: In a standard arm lift, the scar is a straight line from the armpit to the elbow. It is placed along the inside of the arm. However, it can still be visible in short sleeve shirts and tank tops. In the short-scar arm lift, the scar is a curved line that can be hidden in the armpit.

Q: How long does it take for the scar to heal?

A: Initial scar healing takes approximately two weeks. After that time, your surgeon will work with you on scar management including massage and topical therapies to minimize its appearance.

Q: Who is a good candidate for an arm lift?

A: A patient in overall good health, who has been weight stable for at least one year and desires to improve the contour of their upper arms.

Together, you and your surgeon will devise a treatment plan that
addresses your concerns and is surgically feasible.

Q: What can I expect in my initial consultation?

A: Your plastic surgeon will ask about your general medical history and examine your areas of concern. This is the opportunity for you to discuss what bothers you. Together, you will devise a treatment plan that addresses your concerns and is surgically feasible.

Q: How long does the surgery take?

A: To contour both upper arms, the total length of surgery is approximately three hours.

Q: What will prepare me for surgery?

A: The best way to prepare for an operation is to understand why you are having the operation, what exactly will be performed, and what your results are likely to be. If there are medical issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes, these should be well controlled prior to surgery.

Smokers must stop smoking in order to decrease the risk of wound healing issues. All patients should be nicotine-free for at least six weeks prior to and after surgery.

Q: What are the risks of arm lift surgery?

A: The risks are similar to most major operations. They include wound healing issues, poor scarring, bleeding, infection, and seroma (fluid collection) formation. In order to prevent fluid accumulation, your surgeon may leave a small drain in place for a few days. In addition, he or she may place your arms in compression garments (similar to ACE wrap sleeves) right in the operating room, which you will wear during your initial recovery.

Q: When can one return to normal activities? Exercising?

A: Most patients are able to resume their daily routines within two weeks. It takes about four to six weeks to return to your exercise regimen.

Q: Can other procedures be done at the same time?

A: Yes, short procedures can be combined with an arm lift. In order to maintain the highest level of patient safety, we limit the number of body contouring procedures that can done at once, in order to limit time under anesthesia.

Q: How much does arm lift surgery cost?

A: Cost varies by location and consists of three components: professional fee for the surgeon, professional fee for anesthesia, and the cost of the operating room. Insurance companies generally do not cover the costs associated with these operations. They are considered cosmetic procedures. Most plastic surgeons have financing plans available.

Click here for more information about the plastic surgeons and the plastic surgery services at Stony Brook Medicine.

Comments

Wow, I didn't realize there even were such intense conditions that required just arm surgeons. I guess it's kind of like how there's a lawyer for everything.
I appreciate the detailed information on arm lift surgery. I was looking for more information on knee lift surgery or some kind of procedure to that effect. I know it's a different area of the body but it was good for me to read your article because I think many of these principles would apply to removing fat from the knees as well. Thanks!
Thank you for the excellent explanation of the procedure for brachioplasty and the before/after care. I was looking for more information regarding cost. While I know it is hard to pinpoint exact price, and three factors must be considered, I would appreciate a "ballpark" figure for the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and the procedure facilities. It would greatly help to know since insurance does not cover this, and a payment/savings plan needs to be in place for many of us.
Cost varies greatly based upon the exact type of lift needed and the amount of tissue to be contoured and resected. This information helps determine the length of operative time needed. For an approximate price, it is recommended you seek consultation with a plastic surgeon. — Tara L. Huston, MD
Hello Dr. Tara, my mom was considering the procedure, she is 65 years old. Is there a longer recovery period for elderly patients? She hasn't got much fatty tissue, only excess skin. I have actually tried to persuade her not to do it because of her age.
If a patient is in good overall health, age is not a contraindication. Your mother should consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon in order to determine whether she is a candidate for surgery. — Tara L. Huston, MD
I am obese (275 lbs) but have huge "bat wings" in proportion to the rest of my body. Is it still possible for me to be a candidate for this type of surgery? I am currently losing weight, but am pretty confident the arms will still be a problem regardless of any weight loss.
Ideally, body contouring surgery including arm lift should be performed when a person has reached his or her ideal weight. There are exceptions to every rule, and a consultation with a board-certified plastic consultation can help determine the optimal time for your surgery. — Tara L. Huston, MD
I am 65 yrs old. I have loose skin under my arms as well as wrinkled skin. I was overweight when I was a teenager, and lost weight. I did exercise all of my life, but it hasn't helped that problem. It has effected me mentally. I am not able to wear the clothes like other women do, because I am ashamed of my arms. I don't smoke, and I do not have any health problems that I am aware of. Do I have a good recovery period?
As a healthy non-smoker, you may me a candidate for body contouring surgery. Your age is not a contraindication. You should seek consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon. Best of luck!