Arm lift surgery is a procedure that aims to remove excess or loose skin and/or fat from the upper arms in order to tone and improve their look. The medical term for this surgical procedure is “brachioplasty”.
1.5 to 4 hours
0 - 2 nights
General or local with sedation
6 - 9 months
Arm Lift Surgery will typically cost between £5,000 and £6,000. Like any procedure, there are some variants that will affect the final price, they include:
- Surgeon experience
- Anaesthetist experience
- The complexity of the individual procedure
- Surgical techniques (whether it is a revision surgery or Rib Graft, for example)
- The time required in surgery for each patient’s case
A final price will be offered following a consultation with the surgeon, during which all expectations and details will be discussed based on a patient’s individual wants and needs and based on the surgeon’s expert advice.
Once a final price has been offered, it will cover the following:
- Surgeon and anaesthetist costs
- Hospital costs
- Overnight stays (if required)
- Aftercare and follow-up appointments
It is an increasingly popular procedure and is in high demand, especially among those who have lost large amounts of weight.
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 providing a more defined shape to the upper arm. This method particularly targets stubborn fat that you cannot remove through exercise and diet alone. If patients have a lot of excess fat in the upper arms, the surgeon may also use liposuction to aid the contouring of the arms.
Patients may choose to have an arm lift if they have:
- Excess skin after major weight loss
- Drooping skin as a result of ageing 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, ageing 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, ageing 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 patients are thinking about having an arm lift procedure, they can increase their suitability for surgery by optimising their health. Therefore, doing regular exercise, reducing alcohol intake, eating a healthy diet and stopping smoking, will improve 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 patients go in for an arm lift, they must follow the surgeon’s instructions for eating, drinking and taking medications the night before surgery. It is essential that patients follow this guidance or your surgeon.
An arm lift surgery involves the following steps:
Patients will have to sign a consent form before having surgery. They will sign this either on the day of surgery or during the pre-operative assessment a week before. After patients sign the consent form, the surgeon will draw some lines on the arms, and discuss the goals of the arm lift.
The anaesthetist will then give an anaesthetic. For an arm lift, patients can either have a general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic with IV (intravenous) sedation. The type of anaesthetic patients are given will depend on the surgeon’s practice. The patient and the surgeon will discuss which anaesthetic to use during the first consultation.
After the anaesthetist gives the anaesthetic, the surgeon will clean and put drapes over the surgical 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 the surgeon to conceal these scars well. There are three types of incisions that surgeons can use:
Mini brachioplasty (minimal incision)
For a mini Brachioplasty, the 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. The 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. The 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 the 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.
The surgeon will discuss the different techniques and suggest which one will achieve the best results for the patient's body. The BAPRAS/BAAPS surgeon’s choice will depend on a number of factors including the amount of excess skin and fat in the upper arms.
Closing the incisions
The surgeon will close the incisions using external stitches. They will then wrap a tight bandage around the upper arms. Patients may also have some small drainage tubes put under the skin to help reduce swelling and bruising. Usually, the surgeon will remove these drains before the patient is discharged to go home.
Return to the ward
After the arm lift procedure, patients will be taken to the ward to recover from the anaesthetic. They will either be able to go home on the same day but it is likely that they will have to spend one night in hospital following the procedure. Patients should be able to go home to rest the next day.
What to expect during an arm lift consultation?
The arm lift consultation will usually last between 15 minutes to an hour. During this consultation, the surgeon will discuss all aspects of the operation. There are some important topics that they will cover. These include:
- Why the patient wants to have an arm lift
- Their 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. The surgeon will ask about the patient's medical history:
- Current health status
- Past or current medical conditions
- Medications including herbal remedies and vitamins
- Use of alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs
- Drug allergies
- Previous surgeries.
The surgeon will also examine the upper arms and take photos of them for medical records. They will then present to the patient with their 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 the arm lift consultation
It is very important that patients fully understand the procedure. This consultation provides patients with the opportunity to discuss any feelings they have about the surgery, and ask any questions they may have, such as:
- 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?
Risks & Complications
What are the main arm lift risks & complications?
Before patients consent to having surgery, it is important that they consider the arm lift risks and complications. Surgeons typically recommend that patients take two weeks after the initial consultation to think about all aspects of an arm lift procedure before going in to have the surgery. 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, the surgeon may have to drain the excess fluid.
As an arm lift requires the surgeon to make surgical incisions, patients will 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, patients may wish to consider having the mini Brachioplasty which produces the least amount of scarring.
Patients should also be aware that there may also be some asymmetry in the scars between the two arms, but the 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 the surgeon if patients 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. Patients may also find that they experience some swelling of the hands. This should all resolve over time, typically within two to three weeks.
Patients must take any sort of infection seriously if it occurs. In most cases, the infections are only mild wound infections that the surgeon can treat with some antibiotics. If a more serious infection occurs, they may need to go back to the hospital for treatment. It is important that patients 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 anaesthesia.
The surgeon will discuss all of the possible risks prior to the surgery. It is also important that patients follow the surgeon’s pre and postoperative advice to further reduce the risk of these complications occurring.
If patients 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 patients contact the surgeon immediately.
Patients must keep in mind that they may be unhappy with the aesthetic results of the surgery. To try and avoid this happening, patients are advised to choose their surgeon carefully and make sure that they fully understand all 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. Patients may need further surgery to remove these areas if they do develop. The risk of this happening increases if patients are a smoker. This is one of the reasons why patients must be smoke and nicotine-free for at least 6 weeks before and after the arm lift.
Changes in skin sensation
As the 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 the 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 the procedure, the 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, the surgeon will remove them.
It is common to experience some minor bleeding after the operation. Bleeding can, however, become more severe. This tends to happen during or immediately after the operation, but can occasionally occur up to 2 weeks later. Patients may need to have surgery to correct this.
How to prepare for an arm lift?
Patients should prepare well before having arm lift surgery. The surgeon will give specific advice on what to do prior to having the procedure. Here are some guidelines patients have found useful.
Patients may find that after surgery, it may be more comfortable to prop themselves up while they sleep. Patients can do this by having loads of extra pillows on your bed.
Household items and chores
Patients should try not to strain the incisions on the arms by reaching up for cupboard items. Patients might, therefore, find it useful to put cupboard items such as mugs, crockery, and dry food on the kitchen counter. This stops them having to reach to get items. It may be useful to clean the house, do the washing and take the bins out before the operation takes place. This will give more time to recover.
As patients will not be able to lift any heavy items for a while after the procedure, they should do a big food shop shortly before the arm lift surgery. Patients could also prepare some meals to put in the freezer so that they do not have to worry about cooking.
Children & pets
As patients will need plenty of time to rest and recover, patients should ask family and friends to help look after children and pets for the first week or so after the operation.
Patients will not be able to drive straight after the operation. They should, therefore, ask a family member or friend if they can take them home, or are able to arrange transport.
Maintaining a healthy diet will help patients recover. Try to have lots of protein, fruits, vegetables, and water.
Be sure to have some comfortable, loose-fitting clothes to wear for after the procedure. It is advised wearing tops that can easily fasten from the front to avoid straining the incisions.
What to expect after an arm lift?
The BAAPS/BAPRAS surgeon will give specific instructions for the arm lift aftercare process. This will include timeframes for when you can go back to work, exercise and driving. Before patients are sent home, a post-operative appointment will be arranged. During this appointment, the surgeon will remove any non-absorbable stitches, examine the arms and see any complications that may have arisen.
After the arm lift, patients will need to wear a tight bandage called a compression garment around the upper part of the arms. They will need to wear this for 4 to 8 weeks depending on the surgeon’s advice. This garment helps reduce swelling and therefore helps to achieve a better end result.
The surgeon may suggest some methods that can help reduce the appearance of your scars. These may include:
- Scar massage
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 the surgeon advises patients 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 the 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 patients can return to work after the arm lift depends on the type of job a patient holds. If patients have an office job, they may only need 1 to 3 weeks off. If however, the job involves physical activity such as waitressing or childcare, patients may need to take 3 to 4 weeks off.
Despite the job they have, patients should be able to resume their 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, patients should not do any type of exercise or sport. Any physical activity such as these may reduce swelling and negatively affect their final results. Patients should also avoid sexual activity for 2 weeks.
Weeks 2 to 6
After two weeks, patients may begin to do some sports that do not involve very vigorous movements. For example, cycling. Patients will still not be able to lift any heavy weights or partake in any contact sports.
After 6 weeks
6 weeks after the arm lift, patients should be able to resume all types of sports and exercises again.
Depending on the advice that the surgeon gives, patients may not be able to drive for a period of 5 days to 2 weeks after surgery. Patients should, therefore, make sure that they have a family member or friend to help with travel during this time period.
It may take some time before patients are able to see the final results of the arm lift surgery. Patients should expect to see some bruising and swelling for at least the first 2 to 3 weeks. 6 to 8 weeks after the procedure, they should be able to start seeing the full results of the arm lift. However, it can take 6 to 9 months before everything completely settles.
Patients are advised to follow the surgeon’s personalised arm lift aftercare instructions to ensure that they get the best results possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Arm Lift Surgery FAQs
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All of the information found on our website is sourced from highly reputable experts, government-approved authorities and is widely used by healthcare professionals.
- https://www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org/procedure-learning-center/body-procedures/skin-removal-after-weight-loss/ American Board of Cosmetic Surgery
- https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/brachioplasty John Hopkins Medicine
- https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/arm-lift American Society of Plastic Surgery
Our content is written by our Medical Quality Managers and Patient Care Advisers, all of who have medical backgrounds and training. Prior to publishing, all the information is reviewed by a surgeon specialised within the relevant field.
Find out more about arm lift surgery
Arm lift surgery revitalises the arm by removing excess skin and fat to give a more slender and youthful appearance