Thinking About Arm Lift Surgery? Facts You Should Know

Surgeon addresses common brachioplasty questions
woman pinches saggy arm

Maybe you’re fit and healthy, but your skin is not as elastic as it once was. Or you’ve had good results from dieting or bariatric surgery. Either way, you’re seeing one result that’s not so good: Flaps of loose skin hanging from your upper arms.

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Some people consider getting an arm lift to minimize this irritating condition, sometimes called “bat wings.” Plastic surgeon J. Vicente Poblete, MD, says most people come to him with skin on the upper arms that has a “deflated appearance.” Here’s what you need to know.

How does an arm lift help?

Those watching their weight aren’t the only ones who have this problem. As you age, your skin may get crepey and loose, creating excess bags under your arms. If you’ve had a significant weight loss or weight fluctuations you’ll likely see this result.

If this is your situation, an arm lift, or what’s called a brachioplasty, can create a better contour. “It gets rid of the excess, sagging skin and fat that spans from elbow to armpit,” Dr. Poblete says.

What can you expect from the procedure?

If you choose this procedure, you’ll have an arm lift in an operating room under general anesthesia.

Your surgeon will remove some fat and an elliptical segment of skin from the inner back side of your arm. If there’s a lot of excess skin, your surgeon may take some from the very top of your arm, into your armpit area and possibly extend to your chest.

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The procedure lasts two to three hours. Afterward, you will wear a compression garment to help control swelling.

You typically can expect to resume light activity within a few days. You likely can go back to strenuous activity after three or four weeks, Dr. Poblete says. 

Why doesn’t liposuction fix the problem?

If you have excess arm skin, but underlying fat keeps the skin tight, an arm lift and liposuction combination is sometimes an option. But for most patients, an arm lift, not liposuction, is the best fix for saggy underarms, Dr. Poblete says.

Patients request liposuction because there is no scarring, he says. With an arm lift, particularly if the surgeon removes a significant amount of fat and skin, there is some scarring afterward.

“It is visible,” he says. “We try to hide it by bringing it closer to the inside of the arm, but we cannot predict how the scar will migrate.”

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But liposuction alone won’t treat the problem of excess skin for most people. Even if your surgeon removes underlying fat, the excess skin remains after liposuction. Patients best suited for liposuction are those with a fat excess and whose skin is still relatively tight.

And, even with scarring, most people who have an arm lift appreciate their results, Dr. Poblete says.

What are other important considerations?

“Patients should be realistic with what they are starting with and what the right procedure is for them,” he says. With an arm lift, removing loose skin and fat addresses their main concern, making them look better.

As with any surgical procedure, there are potential complications. Discuss these with your plastic surgeon before the treatment, Dr. Poblete says. And make sure the physician performing the arm lift is a board-certified plastic surgeon.

The arm lift process is typically safe, he says. If you have significant health issues, however, you should avoid any selective procedure that requires general anesthesia.

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