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An arm lift is becoming an increasingly popular procedure amongst men and women who are looking to improve the appearance of their arms. The medical term for an arm lift is “brachioplasty”. It is a surgical procedure that can tone the upper arms by removing excess skin or fat. The procedure can also tighten the underlying supportive tissues of the arms. This arm lift overview gives a good introduction to the procedure.
What can an arm lift achieve?
An arm lift aims to reduce the amount of excess skin and fat in the upper arms, in order to create a more aesthetically pleasing arm shape. It also aims to tighten and smooth the underlying supportive tissue allowing a new defined shape of the upper arm. This method particularly targets stubborn fat that cannot you cannot remove through exercise and diet alone. If you have a lot of excess fat in the upper arms, your surgeon may also use liposuction to aid the contouring of the arms.
You may choose to have an arm lift if you are looking to boost your self-esteem and remove:
- Excess skin after major weight loss
- Drooping skin as a result of aging or heredity
- Excess fat deposits and cellulite
Who are the ideal candidates for an arm lift?
For various reasons, arm lift surgery is not suitable for everyone. Those that would be considered the ideal arm lift candidates include individuals who are:
- At a stable weight and have a BMI of less than 30 – 32
- Struggling with excess skin in their upper arms as a result of weight loss, aging or genetics
- Willing to continue a healthy lifestyle after surgery
- Non-smokers or are smoke and nicotine free for at least 6 weeks before the procedure
- Realistic with their expectations
- Emotionally ready for surgery
Why have an arm lift?
The upper arms tend to droop down and sag after significant weight loss, aging or due to genetics. This can make some people feel very self-conscious and unable to wear clothing that exposes their upper arms. People often find that this excess skin is difficult to lose through exercise and a healthy diet alone, and therefore choose to have an arm lift to correct it.
An arm lift can:
- Re-define the upper arm, by tightening and smoothening the underlying tissue
- Remove excess drooping skin after significant weight loss
- Remove small pockets of fat in the upper arm
- Boost your self-esteem
- Create more youthful appearing arms that better complement the rest of your body.
Despite this, it is important to be aware that arm lift surgery is not a method to be used for weight loss. It is only for people who have tried to reach their optimal weight, and as a result, have excess skin or stubborn fat.
If you are thinking about having an arm lift procedure, you can increase your suitability for surgery by optimising your health. Therefore, doing regular exercise, reducing alcohol intake, eating a healthy diet and stopping smoking, will improve your suitability for surgery.
How is an arm lift procedure performed?
The arm lift procedure usually takes between 90 to 120 minutes. It may be done as a day case, but is more commonly an overnight stay in hospital. Before you come in for your arm lift, you must follow your surgeon’s instructions for eating, drinking and taking medications the night before your surgery. It is essential that you follow this guidance or your surgeon will cancel your surgery.
An arm lift surgery involves the following steps:
1. Consent form
You will have to sign a consent form before having your surgery. You will sign this either on the day of your surgery or during your pre-operative assessment a week before. After you sign your consent form, your surgeon will draw some lines on your arms, and discuss the goals of the arm lift.
Your anaesthetist will then give you the anaesthetic. For an arm lift, you can either have a general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic with IV (intravenous) sedation. The type of anaesthetic you are given will depend on your surgeon’s practice. You and your surgeon will discuss which anaesthetic to use during your first consultation.
After your anaesthetist gives you your anaesthetic, the surgeon will clean and put drapes over the treatment area before making the incisions.
The incisions for a brachioplasty can either be made in the armpit or along the back of the arm. These positions allow your surgeon to conceal these scars well. There are three types of incisions that your surgeon can use:
Mini brachioplasty (minimal incision)
For a mini brachioplasty, your surgeon will make a single incision in the shape of a crescent under the armpit. The surgeon may, however, extend the incision into the arm. This is a T-line lift.
This technique is most suitable for people with minimal excess skin and fat in the uppermost region of the arm.
A mini brachioplasty results in a smaller amount of scarring than a standard brachioplasty. Your surgeon will hide the scar well within the armpit. However, the results are only effective in patients with minimal excess skin and fat.
Standard brachioplasty (inner arm incision)
This technique involves making two separate incisions:
- Inner arm incision – this goes from the armpit to just above the elbow, between the biceps and triceps.
- Back of the arm incision– this goes from the armpit to just above the elbow along the tricep region.
It is most suitable for those with a moderate amount of excess skin and fat. Your surgeon will remove the excess skin and fat, then tighten and reshape the underlying tissues.
The scar is well hidden when the arms are held at the side, and this technique is thought to achieve a better result.
The incision for an extensive brachioplasty runs from the elbow, through the armpit, and into the side of the chest.
After your surgeon makes the incision, they will remove excess skin and fat, then tighten the underlying tissues. They will either remove the excess fat directly, or use liposuction to remove it.
As this technique results in maximal scarring that extends to the side of the chest, surgeons do not often use it.
Your surgeon will discuss the different techniques and suggest which one will achieve the best results for your body. Your Avrupamed surgeon’s choice will depend on a number of factors including the amount of excess skin and fat in the upper arms.
4. Closing the incisions
Your surgeon will close the incisions using external stitches. They will then wrap a tight bandage around your upper arms. You may also have some small drainage tubes put under the skin to help reduce swelling and bruising. Usually, you surgeon will remove these drains before you go home.
5. Return to the ward
After your arm lift procedure, you will be take to the ward to recover from the anaesthetic. You will either be able to go home on the same day but it is likely that you will have to spend one night in hospital following the procedure. You should be able to go home to rest the next day.
What should I expect during my arm lift consultation?
Your arm lift consultation will usually last between 15 minutes to an hour. During this consultation, your surgeon will discuss all aspects of the operation. There are some important topics that they will cover. These include:
- Why you want to have an arm lift
- Your expectations and desires
- Advice on how to achieve the best results
- The risks and complications of the procedure
After discussing the details of the arm lift. Your surgeon will ask you about your medical history. They will ask you about your:
- Current health status
- Past or current medical conditions
- Medications that you are currently taking including herbal remedies and vitamins
- Use of alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs
- Drug allergies
- Previous surgeries.
Your surgeon will also examine your upper arms and take photos of them for your medical records. They will then present to you with your treatment options. The surgeon will base these options on:
- The best surgical approach to the problem you have expressed
- The amount of excess skin and fat you have
- The elasticity of your skin.
Questions to ask during your arm lift consultation
It is very important that you fully understand the procedure. This consultation provides you the opportunity to discuss any feelings you have about the surgery, and ask any questions you may have. We recommend that you ask your surgeon these questions:
- Do you think that what I want to achieve from surgery is realistic?
- What will you expect from me to get the best results?
- How will you perform my procedure?
- Where will my scars be located?
- How long will the recovery period be, and what kind of help will I need in this period?
- Have you performed this surgery before?
- Is it possible to see photos of similar operations you have done?
At Avrupamed, our surgeons want you to achieve the best results possible and therefore it is important that you are honest about what you wish to achieve in the consultation.
Risks & complications
What are the main arm lift risks & complications?
Before you consent to having surgery, it is important that you consider the arm lift risks and complications. Our surgeons recommend that you take two weeks after the initial consultation to think about all aspects of an arm lift procedure before you go in to have the surgery.
Educating yourself on the risks of this procedure is really important and will allow you to make a fully informed decision. The risks include the following:
A seroma is a pocket of fluid that collects under the skin. This pocket often develops under or around the area where you have your incision. To reduce the risk of this developing, your surgeon will put drains into your arms after surgery to collect the fluid. Although not very harmful, if a seroma becomes too large, your surgeon may have to drain the excess fluid.
As an arm lift requires your surgeon to make surgical incisions, you will definitely be left with a scar. The incision lines for this procedure are purposely put in places that are as discreet as possible. If scarring is a particular issue for you, you may wish to consider having the mini brachioplasty which produces the least amount of scarring.
You should also be aware that there may also be some asymmetry in the scars between the two arms, but your surgeon will do their best to reduce this.
Some patients experience more severe forms of scarring called keloid or hypertrophic scars. It is important to notify your surgeon if you have had this type of scarring in the past.
Swelling and bruising
After an arm lift, there may be a large amount of swelling and bruising in the arms. The skin area around the wound may appear darker or lighter in colour. You may also find that you experience some swelling of the hands. This should all resolve over time, typically within two to three weeks.
You must take any sort of infection seriously if it occurs. In most cases, the infections are only mild wound infections that your surgeon can treat with some antibiotics. If a more serious infection occurs, you may need to go back to the hospital for treatment. It is important that you flag up any signs of infection which can include:
- Any fluid or pus coming out of the incision
- An increasing amount of pain that is not relieved by medication
- Foul smelling discharge
- A temperature greater than 38°C
- Redness or swelling that is starting to spread away from the incision line.
General surgical complications
All surgical procedures carry some common risks. These include, but are not limited to:
- Blood clot formation
- Vomiting and nausea
- Blood loss
- Problems with anesthesia.
Your surgeon will discuss all of the possible risks prior to your surgery. It is also important that you follow your surgeon’s pre and postoperative advice to further reduce the risk of these complications occurring.
If you experience any periods of sudden shortness of breath, unusual heartbeats, chest pain or a red swollen arm that is very tender to touch, it is essential you contact your surgeon immediately.
You must keep in mind that you may be unhappy with the aesthetic results of your surgery. To try and avoid this happening, you must choose your surgeon carefully and make sure that he or she fully understands your expectations and desires.
Fat, tissue or skin necrosis
During an arm lift procedure, areas around the arms might lose their blood supply. If this happens, the area that is affected may die. This is a very rare complication and is called necrosis. It can happen in the fat, tissue or skin of the arms. The necrosis makes the area under the skin firm and uneven in appearance. You will need further surgery to remove these areas if they do develop. The risk of this happening increases if you are a smoker. This is one of the reasons why you must be smoke and nicotine-free for at least 6 weeks before and after your arm lift.
Changes in skin sensation
As your surgeon repositions and tightens the arm tissues, it may cause some damage to the nerves around that area. This can lead to changes in the feeling or sensation in your arms. These changes can either be an increase in sensation, a decrease in sensation or strange feelings of burning or tingling. In most cases, however, this is temporary and should resolve itself within a few months after the procedure. Rarely, these changes in sensation can become permanent.
After your procedure, your surgeon will close the incisions with either absorbable or non-absorbable sutures. There is a risk that these may cause irritation, poke through the skin or become visible. If this happens, your surgeon will remove them.
It is common to experience some minor bleeding after your operation. Bleeding can, however, become more severe. This tends to happen during or immediately after your operation, but can occasionally occur up to 2 weeks later. You may need to have surgery to correct this.
Choosing a highly qualified surgeon will decrease the chances of you developing any of these arm lift risks and complications.
Preparing for your treatment
How can I prepare for an arm lift?
You should prepare well before you have your arm lift surgery. Your surgeon will give you specific advice on what to do prior to having your treatment. We also have some general guidance which may be useful for you. Some of the arm lift preparation tips we recommend include the following:
You may find that after surgery, it may be more comfortable for you to prop yourself up while you sleep. You can do this by having loads of extra pillows on your bed.
You should try not to strain the incisions on your arms by reaching up for cupboard items. You might, therefore, find it useful to put cupboard items such as mugs, crockery, and dry food on the kitchen counter. This stops you having to reach to get them.
As you will not be able to lift any heavy items for a while after your procedure, you should do a big food shop shortly before your arm lift. You could also prepare some meals to put in the freezer so that you do not have to worry about cooking!
Children & pets
As you will need plenty of time to rest and recover, you should ask family and friends to help look after your children and pets for the first week or so after your operation.
It may be useful to clean the house, do your laundry and take the bins out before your operation. This will give you more time to recover!
You will not be able to drive straight after your operation. You should, therefore, ask a family member or friend if they can take you home, or you should arrange transport. If you are finding this difficult, we can help organize your travel.
It will help your recovery process if you maintain a healthy diet. Try to have lots of protein, fruits, vegetables, and water.
Make sure you have some comfortable, loose-fitting clothes to wear for after your procedure. We advise wearing tops that can easily fasten from the front to avoid straining your incisions.
Your Avrupamed surgeon will give you specific advice regarding how to prepare for your arm lift. It is vital that you follow their advice.
What can I expect after an arm lift?
It is important that you know what to expect after your treatment. Your Avrupamed surgeon will give you specific instructions for your arm lift aftercare process. This will include timeframes for when you can go back to work, exercise and driving.
Before you are sent home, a post-operative appointment will be arranged for you. During this appointment, your surgeon will remove any non-absorbable stitches, examine your arms and see to any complications that may have risen.
After your arm lift, you will need to wear a tight bandage called a compression garment around the upper part of your arms. You will need to wear this for 4 to 8 weeks depending on your surgeon’s advice. You should be able to remove this only when bathing.
This garment helps reduce swelling and therefore helps to achieve a better end result.
Your surgeon may suggest some methods that can help reduce the appearance of your scars. These may include:
Massaging your scar after the incision heals may aid the healing process.
Silicone sheets, gels or creams
Using silicone gels, creams or sheets has been clinically proven to help reduce the appearance of scars. If your surgeon advises you to use silicone products, it is important to follow their strict instructions on how to use them.
Avoid sunlight & sunbeds
It is important not to expose your scars to direct sunlight. Sunlight not only darkens the scar but can also cause damage to the healing skin and increase the risk of developing skin cancer in that area.
Returning to work
How quickly you can return to work after your arm lift depends on your job. If you have an office job, you may only need 1 to 3 weeks off. If however, your job involves physical activity such as waitressing or child care, you may need to take 3 to 4 weeks off.
Despite the job you have, you should be able to resume your daily routine after 2 weeks – as long as this does not involve rigorous activity.
Returning to exercise and sport
Weeks 1 to 2
For the first two weeks, you should not do any type of exercise or sport. Any physical activity such as these may reduce swelling and negatively affect your final results. You should also avoid sexual activity for 2 weeks.
Weeks 2 to 6
After two weeks, you may begin to do some sports that do not involve very vigorous movements. For example, you may cycle. You will still not be able to lift any heavy weights or partake in any contact sports.
After 6 weeks
6 weeks after your arm lift, you should be able to resume all types of sports and exercises again.
Depending on the advice that your surgeon gives you, you may not be able to drive for a period of 5 days to 2 weeks after your surgery. You should, therefore, make sure that you have a family member or friend to help you travel during this time period.
It may take some time before you are able to see the final results of your treatment. You should expect to see some bruising and swelling for at least the first 2 to 3 weeks. 6 to 8 weeks after your procedure, you should be able to start seeing the full results of your arm lift. However, it can take 6 to 9 months before everything completely settles.
You must follow your surgeon’s arm lift aftercare instructions to ensure that you get the best results possible.
This page lists common arm lift FAQs (frequently asked questions) that patients may have. These include the following:
What effect can alcohol, smoking, and drugs have on an arm lift?
If you smoke, drink alcohol, are overweight or take drugs for medical or other reasons, the risks of surgery are greatly increased. Smoking in particular delays the time it takes for your wounds to heal, and increases the risk of infection. For this reason, our surgeons recommend that patients stop smoking and using all nicotine products at least 6 weeks before and after surgery.
Will I have drains put in after an arm lift?
After an arm lift you may have a small plastic tube placed under your skin at the site of the incision. This ensures any blood or fluid that may build up during the operation can freely drain, therefore avoiding build up. You will generally only have the drains kept in for 1 to 2 days. If you do have drains put in, your surgeon will give you advice on how to take care of them.
Do I need a GP referral for an arm lift?
Your surgeon will be happy to see you without a GP referral. They will, however, contact your GP to get a full list of your medical history before you have surgery. This is to ensure that you are healthy enough to have an arm lift.
Who should not have an arm lift?
An arm lift is not a suitable procedure for everyone. In some cases, it is strongly advised that you do not have an arm lift. It is not recommended if you have had:
- A complete mastectomy (removal of the breast) after breast cancer
- Surgery on the armpit or lymph nodes under the arms.
These procedures affect the drainage of the upper arm and therefore can cause post-operative swelling to persist and increase the risk of complications.
What effect will weight loss or weight gain have on my arm lift?
Any major changes in weight can impact the final results of your arm lift. Major weight gain will re-stretch the arms to their former position. Major weight loss will cause a return of excess upper arm skin. We, therefore, advise that you reach a stable weight before having an arm lift.
It is essential that you get answers to all of the questions you have before you go in for surgery. Your Avrupamed surgeon can answer all your questions during your consultation. Alternatively, you can give one of our patient care advisers a call and they will be happy to help.