Arm lift surgery, otherwise known as Brachioplasty, removes excess skin to reshape the upper arms and create a slimmer, more tightened, and better-contoured appearance.
Some people may have sagging skin anywhere from the armpit to the elbow area due to weight changes or natural aging. In severe cases, this is sometimes called a “bat wing”. Especially after significant weight loss, people can feel embarrassed and distressed about the appearance of their arms and avoid revealing their arms, even in hot weather.
People who seek an arm lift may have had significant weight loss or they may naturally have heavier arms. They may have tried to tone their arms through working out. Exercise and weight loss can improve the shape of your arms by reducing fat and increasing muscle tone, but it cannot change the appearance of loose and sagging skin. In these cases, surgery is the best option.
Arm-lift surgery is complex and should be carefully planned. An important first step is to choose a surgeon who has specialty training and experience in aesthetic plastic surgery.
A good surgeon will listen to your vision for your body and discuss which procedures will give a final result that will meet your goals.
Dr. Ginger Xu uses her high level of technical expertise to make sure each person’s appearance aligns with their unique identity. Dr. Xu is a Board-certified plastic surgeon with specialty training in aesthetic plastic surgery from Harvard. She is now based in the San Francisco Bay area.
Brachioplasty is the best treatment for “bat wings” or excess sagging skin on the upper arms. Upper arm skin can become loose and sag because of:
Your surgeon will recommend a type of Brachioplasty procedure based on the amount of sagging skin you have, your age, and your skin condition. Depending on the pre-existing condition of your arms, an arm lift can:
Weight loss and exercise can decrease fat in the upper arms and increase the size and tone of your arm muscles but it will not tighten or improve issues with loose and sagging skin. Once a healthy weight has been achieved and maintained through diet and exercise, surgery is the best way to remove skin and improve the shape of your arms.
An arm lift can remove excess loose skin and tissue, but it is not a replacement for weight loss. To decrease the size of the arms, either weight loss or liposuction are better options. Once you have tried weight loss and have maintained a stable and healthy weight for at least six months, you will then be in a better position to understand which Brachioplasty procedure can help you achieve your goals.
Not everyone has the body type to have the same results after contouring of the arms. The results will depend on your personal history, your body type, skin condition and the quantity of loose skin.
People want an arm lift for a range of reasons:
People are good candidates for Brachioplasty if they:
There are several possible surgical approaches that your surgeon can use for an arm lift. The technique recommended will depend on the amount of excess skin and whether you have had significant weight loss. Each technique has the potential to achieve different degrees of improvement and also leave different levels of scarring, which is an important consideration for people thinking about an arm lift procedure.
During a consultation, Dr. Xu can recommend the best technique for you after she examines your body and has a good understanding of your vision and goals.
The benefits and limitations of different Brachioplasty procedures are described below.
Liposuction is not a type of Brachioplasty but is a procedure to remove fat. It is appropriate for people who just wish to reduce the size and bulk of their arms, specifically targeting the fat. Liposuction alone might be suitable for people who have firm skin, good muscle tone and are close to healthy body weight.
Liposuction is also often done at the same time as skin removal during Brachioplasty in order to fine-tune the contours of the upper arm.
Liposuction does not remove the skin so if your skin is sagging, your plastic surgeon may recommend a Brachioplasty procedure.
Minimal-incision Brachioplasty (also known as limited-incision Brachioplasty) is suitable for people who have a small amount of excess skin located close to the armpit (axilla). In this technique, the surgeon makes a small incision in the armpit and the extra arm skin is pinched and tucked up into the incision.
The advantage of this technique is that the scar is well hidden in the armpit and will fade with time.
A standard arm lift is suitable for people with a more significant amount of extra skin and tissue on the upper arm. The incision extends along the underside of the arms from the armpit down toward the elbow. It may end above or below the elbow depending on how much skin needs to be removed and where your skin excess is located.
These techniques will leave scars that are designed to be hidden when the arms are down at the side. Scars will be more obvious when people lift their arms, but will generally fade with time.
People who have experienced massive weight loss often have sagging skin and excess tissue across the entire body, in all dimensions. To improve the appearance of their arms and the chest area they may need extended-incision Brachioplasty.
In this technique, the surgeon customizes the length and direction of the incisions depending on individual anatomy. This technique can involve extended incisions into the armpit, along the lateral chest wall and/or under the breast fold to enable the surgeon to remove more skin and create a smooth, well-contoured arm and upper chest area.
This may result in significant scarring, although scars will fade with time. People having Brachioplasty need to weigh the benefit of a shapelier upper arm with the level of scarring caused by the procedure.
After massive weight loss, a considerable amount of excess sagging skin on the upper arm can extend across the entire upper body. Your surgeon will need to examine your individual anatomy and design an extended-incision surgical approach to remove skin in appropriate dimensions.
Excess body weight stretches the skin considerably and people who have experienced massive weight loss are at risk for:
The incisions needed for extended-incision Brachioplasty and the delicate condition of the skin means that people have a higher risk of complications from surgery (see below).
People who are seeking an arm lift after massive weight loss should also ask their surgeon about the potential for staged procedures to give optimal results.
You and your surgeon must communicate and work together so you have a good understanding of the process that will give you the best results. The goal of a good surgeon should be to provide you with the knowledge to understand the factors affecting your arm lift.
Dr. Xu can discuss how your age, skin condition and the distribution of excess skin in your upper arm affect the choice of surgical technique and the results you can achieve.
It is important that you have a realistic understanding of:
Each person has a different level of scarring they can tolerate. Dr. Xu can explain which technique she would recommend for your situation and the level of scarring you can expect.
Techniques causing more scarring might also give you shapely arms that are closer to your goals. Dr. Xu can give you the information you need to weigh the benefit of a more aesthetic upper arm with the level of scarring.
Dr. Xu encourages open and honest communication about your body, your lifestyle and what you want for the future. Photos of your desired look can help her understand your needs. Your medical history is also important, including any information about pregnancies, breastfeeding, weight loss, or other medical conditions.
Things to also discuss with Dr. Xu include:
Dr. Xu understands the responsibility of transforming a person’s appearance to better reflect their identity and build self-esteem. Her top priority is understanding your vision and desires.
Once Dr. Xu has examined your body and arms, she will use her artistic sense and technical expertise to recommend an approach to your surgery that will best suit your goals.
During a consultation, Dr. Xu will explain:
Once you and Dr. Xu have agreed on an approach to your surgery, Dr. Xu will book your surgery time and give you instructions on what to do before and after your surgery.
Dr. Xu will also let you know which medications you should and should not take prior to your surgery and what to do on the day of your surgery. It is important to stop smoking at least six weeks prior to surgery.
You may need to get a blood test or undergo additional tests depending on your medical history. Dr. Xu may also correspond with your primary care doctor to ensure you are in an optimal state of health prior to surgery.
In the weeks before surgery, recommendations to help you prepare include:
It is essential that you feel comfortable about your upcoming procedure and fully understand the process. Dr. Xu encourages her patients to ask any questions about their surgery or recovery.
After your arm lift surgery, you will feel mild to moderate discomfort. The amount of pain you feel and your overall recovery depends on a number of factors such as:
Prescription pain medications might be needed for the first few days. After this time, any pain should be relieved with over-the-counter or non-opioid medications.
For six weeks, you should wear your compression garments or wraps around the arms as instructed, and avoid lifting heavy items. Some people may have had drains inserted and should follow their surgeon’s instructions to look after the drains.
Once bruising and tenderness have gone, you can return to normal activities. Most people can return to work after a week or two, but individual ability to recover will vary. Strenuous exercise should be avoided for six weeks after surgery. Ask your surgeon when you can return to the full range of activities.
If you have had a combination of surgeries, Dr. Xu can advise you of any additional recovery needs.
Your surgeon will aim to minimize scarring, but for standard-incision and extended-incision Brachioplasty, scars will be visible especially when you move or raise your arms. The level of scarring will depend on the amount of excess skin and the length of incisions needed to reshape the upper arm. Following your surgeon’s instructions will help to minimize scarring.
Scars are an important consideration for an arm lift because everyone has a different tolerance for scarring. People needing more extensive procedures should consider the benefit of an aesthetic arm shape versus the level of scarring.
Dr. Xu uses surgical techniques to decrease the risk of scars spreading or thickening. Scars never disappear, but they will fade and become less obvious with time. For some people, scars can become hardly noticeable.
It often is. Liposuction achieves fat removal only and does not address excess or sagging skin. It is not a Brachioplasty per se but is often used at the same time as an arm lift to remove fat deposits and fine-tune arm contour.
Your risk of complications will depend on the specific Brachioplasty technique used and Dr. Xu will make you aware of these before you have surgery. Of the body contouring procedures, Brachioplasty has a higher scar burden, with scars potentially extending down to the elbow. Every person considering an arm lift should think about whether the increased risk of visible scars balances out their desire for more aesthetic arms. Brachioplasty has a higher risk for complications such as:
Your risk for complications will depend on the specific technique used and Dr. Xu will make you aware of these before you have surgery. The risk of some common complications (such as scarring, infection, and bleeding) can be decreased by following your doctor’s post-surgery instructions. Potential common complications after surgery include:
The cost of an arm lift will depend on the type of technique used and whether it is performed alone or in combination with other procedures such as breast lift, thigh lift, body contouring, or liposuction.
The combination surgeries are more complex and will cost more. The best way to understand the costs of surgery is to schedule a consultation with Dr. Xu — a Board-certified plastic surgeon with a high level of technical expertise and the sense of artistry necessary to help people achieve their aesthetic goals.
Many people are unaware of the full scope and possibilities of plastic surgery. Dr. Xu will listen to your vision for your body, review the options that are available to you, and advise you on an optimal surgical plan that will best meet your needs.