Body Contouring Surgery: What You Need to Know

Liposuction, tummy tucks and other cosmetic surgery options
Body Contouring Surgery: What You Need to Know

If you’re thinking about having surgery to tweak or tighten your tummy, thighs, arms or buttocks, body contouring is an option that can improve your shape.

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However, like diet and exercise, it’s a process that takes careful planning and time. And it’s important to have a realistic outlook on what surgery can accomplish.

When is body contouring a good option?

Body-shaping surgeries can remove fat or excess skin, tighten skin and help re-contour the body.

According to plastic surgeon Raymond Isakov, MD, “There are two basic reasons you might consider surgery — after massive weight loss to remove extra skin for symptoms, such as rashes, or to achieve the body shape you want by targeting specific areas.”

In both cases, it may take more than one procedure to achieve the result you’re looking for. And, the procedures are often done in stages.

You may think you need a tummy tuck. But to get the body shape you want, you might need a panniculectomy (skin and tissue removal below the belly button) as well, or liposuction in another area to keep everything in proportion, Dr. Isakov says.

So, considering the different goals you may have for your body, what would you need to get the results you want?

I want to reshape my…

Stomach or waist

A tummy tuck or abdominoplasty is a more cosmetic operation; it’s ideal to getting the body shape you want. It will remove excess fat and skin from your abdomen. The muscle repositioning also helps some people tighten stretched abdominal muscles.

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The surgeon may extend the incision to get rid of excess skin from the back (circumferential abdominoplasty), which is needed more often after massive weight loss.

A panniculectomy (skin and tissue removal of the hanging skin only) is more reconstructive. Liposuction can be used alone or in combination to keep everything in proportion, Dr. Isakov says. It can remove excess fat in the thigh or other areas so stomach contours match the upper and lower body.

Buttocks, hips or thighs

Liposuction is the main procedure you need if you want to remove fat from the buttocks, hips or thighs. However, it doesn’t take care of excess skin in the buttocks or thighs.

A buttock lift will remove both fat and skin, but a thigh lift focuses primarily on tightening the tissue and skin in the outer, inner or front thigh areas. You may need liposuction and a thigh lift if that’s the area you want to address.


An arm lift removes excess skin and reshapes the upper part of the arm. As with the thigh lift, you may need liposuction as well.

Overall body

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A body lift can help remove overall excess skin, fat and may improve cellulite — especially after losing more than 100 pounds. This procedure helps reshape the upper or lower body. This often requires several surgeries performed in stages over time.

An upper lift focuses on the breasts, arms and back. A lower body lift treats the stomach, buttocks, hips and thighs. A body lift also can treat your face and chin. It may require liposuction as well.

The best advice? Plan with care

While you’re understandably focused on how you want to look, a cosmetic surgeon can help you understand what it takes to get you there. Your goals, lifestyle and general health all factor in. Not everyone is a good candidate for surgery.

Dr. Isakov recommends working with a surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. You’ll want to know which procedures might help you achieve your body goals, as well as any potential risks, impact on your body and what different options will cost.

With any surgery, there’s always a risk of infection, and every procedure will leave some type of scar. Clothing will hide many scars and some are usually small, but they are visible even after you recover.

Dr. Isakov notes that insurance may cover procedures to remove excess skin after massive weight loss (after bariatric surgery, for example) because there are health issues, such as persistent rashes, associated with excess skin. These operations are not usually for cosmetic goals.

Other cosmetic procedures are likely not covered and will require an out-of-pocket expenditure, he says.

Getting the most complete picture of the risks and benefits can help you and your doctor decide which types of body contouring procedures are best for you.

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