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An upper arm lift (also known as a “brachioplasty”) is designed to remove skin and fat from the upper arms. Upper arm lifts are usually performed under a general anaesthetic. Crescent or “smile”-shaped segments of skin and fat from underneath the skin are removed from the upper arm, and the remaining skin and tissue are lifted to achieve a tighter and smoother effect. This operation requires the surgeon to make long cuts through the skin and, therefore, the patient will be left with long scars after the surgery. Scars may run from the armpit to the elbow. There is quite a severe amount of pain and discomfort during the healing process which will require pain relief; recovery usually takes one to two weeks. Private prices for a brachioplasty operation can be in the range of £3,000 to £4,000.
An upper arm lift (sometimes known as a “brachioplasty”) is part of a cosmetic surgery procedure called body contouring which is designed to remove skin and fat from the upper arms.
The first body lifting operations began in Brazil and France in the 1960s and 1970s.
Thigh lifts, buttock lifts, abdominoplasty ("tummy tuck"), and arm lifts were performed using the surgical techniques which were available at that time. Although a “tummy tuck” is now a popular cosmetic procedure, in the 1970s, there were problems with unpredictable results, odd body shapes, poor scarring and other complications which made surgeons more cautious in offering these operations.
From the late 1980s, a better understanding of how skin and fat are built up, and of how the body changes shape with age, have allowed surgeons to redesign these operations and they are now much more successful.
In recent years body lift procedures have started to gain in popularity, and according to 2015 statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), just under 26,000 upper arm lifts were performed in 2015 in the U.S., an increase of 13.5% on 2014 statistics. This marks a massive increase of 929.7% on procedures initially undertaken in 1997.
No official figures are yet available for the U.K., but there are a few surgeons who are starting to offer this procedure.
If you're considering an upper arm lift, the following information will give you a basic understanding of the procedure. It can't answer all your questions, since a lot depends on the individual patient and the surgeon. Please ask your surgeon about anything you don't understand.
Your first discussion with a surgeon should clearly set out your expectations and whether the operation can give you the results you desire.
Careful discussions regarding the reasons for wanting an upper arm lift and your suitability for this type of surgery are very important at this stage. Make sure that you obtain as much information as is necessary to enable you to make a fully informed choice and make sure you receive satisfactory answers to all your questions.
It may be that liposuction alone will achieve the results that you desire. You need to talk this option through with your surgeon, along with all your other concerns, at your first meeting.
A medical history should also be taken to make sure that there are no reasons why you shouldn’t have a brachioplasty operation. You would normally be asked to sign a consent form which means that you have understood the potential benefits and risks associated with an upper arm lift.
Photographs may also be taken by the practitioner as a "before and after" comparison at a later date.
The surgeon may also wish to write to your G.P. giving details of the operation so that if there are any problems associated with surgery in the short or long-term, your doctor is aware of the procedure and can help you to recover.
Upper arm lifts are usually performed under a general anaesthetic.
Please take into account that a general anaesthetic carries more potential risks than a local anaesthetic – this should be clearly explained by the surgeon before you make any decisions about the anaesthetic.
If you make a decision to go ahead with an upper arm lift, the actual procedure may take place in an outpatient surgical clinic, but most surgeons and patients prefer a hospital where you can recover overnight.
An upper arm lift will usually take around 2 hours, depending on the extent of work required, and whether any other procedures such as liposuction are also involved.
This operation requires the surgeons to make long cuts through your skin and, therefore, you will be left with long scars after the surgery. The length of the scar will depend on how much excess skin you have.
Depending on the surgeon, and the extent of the body lift procedure, scars may run from the armpit to the elbow, and may be curved or zig – zagged. This should help healing by enabling the scars to close up as quickly as possible. Crescent or “smile”-shaped segments of skin and fat from underneath the skin are removed from the upper arm, and the remaining skin and tissue are lifted to achieve a tighter and smoother effect.
After an upper arm lift, dressings will be applied, and temporary tubes may be put in to drain excess fluid from the area of surgery. Firm elastic bandages are then applied to support the area.
Depending on the extent of the procedure, you may be allowed to go home from hospital after a day or so.
Recovery takes one to two weeks, depending on what was done. Returning to work depends on the nature of the job you do, but most people usually go back after about 2 weeks.
You can usually resume vigorous exercise after approximately four to six weeks.
Side Effects and Risks
There is quite a severe amount of pain and discomfort during the healing process, but this can usually be controlled effectively with painkillers.
Bruising is visible after upper arm lift surgery and can spread down the arms. Swelling can also be very obvious and can take up to three or four months to disappear. You may also experience numbness of the skin around the upper arms and it may take several months for the sensation to return.
Like all surgical procedures, there is always a possibility of risks or side effects and, although rare, complications can include infection, a reaction to the anaesthetic, blood or fluid collection underneath the skin, nerve damage, blood clots, and an irregular or a “lop-sided” appearance of the arms after the operation.
The surgery does produce a permanent scar. Your scars may actually appear to worsen during the first three to six months as they heal, but this is normal. Expect it to take nine months to a year before your scars flatten out and lighten in colour.
Excessive scar formation, however, can occasionally occur where the scars become broad and thick.
It may take you weeks or months to feel like your old self again. If you are fit when you have this operation, you will recover much more quickly than if you are out of shape.
It is very important that you follow the advice of your surgeon carefully after an upper arm lift.
Post-surgery advice may include:
There are few absolute medical reasons why you should not undergo an arm lift as long as you are in good general health and have realistic expectations of this procedure.
This surgery is not suitable after a mastectomy (breast removal) or operations in the axilla lymph nodes. Those with multiple infections of the sweat glands may also not be candidates for brachioplasty. This is because there may be problems with draining the fluids from your arms as a result of your previous surgery. If you were to have another operation, your arms could swell very badly and this may be permanent.
An upper arm lift, however, is not an alternative to losing weight. In fact, many surgeons will suggest an alternative to surgery for patients who are more than 15 percent over their ideal body weight.
Also, if you are considering losing weight, you should wait until after your target weight is met before having this operation. You may need more surgery to remove the excess skin after you have lost the desired weight. This would mean that your first operation would have been a complete waste of time!
If you have experienced healing problems with any past surgical treatments or if you are prone to keloid (red, angry, raised) scars, your surgeon may not recommend an arm lift or may advise you that your scars could be very visible and raised.
Who Can Do It
Only fully trained and qualified surgeons should perform an upper arm lift.
For more information about practitioner training, qualifications and relevant medical organisations please view the information contained within the Legislation section of the Consulting Room.
It is highly unlikely that anyone considering an upper arm lift operation would be able to access this free of charge on the National Health Service.
However certain regions do make special cases, and we would always recommend that you visit your General Practitioner before embarking upon a cosmetic procedure involving surgery.
As well as their advice and guidance they may also be able to refer you to a local NHS Hospital for a consultation.
The NHS has set out the following guidelines on how to get cosmetic surgery through the NHS:
"To qualify for surgery on the NHS you must meet specific criteria as set out by your local health authority. The NHS will not pay for surgery for cosmetic reasons alone. Reconstructive and cosmetic surgery to correct, or improve, congenital abnormalities and injuries will usually be carried out free of charge.
NHS reconstructive surgery is performed by plastic surgeons who have had extensive training and belong to the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons. Surgeons who carry out cosmetic surgery through the NHS also belong to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.
To receive cosmetic surgery from the NHS, you will normally need a referral from your GP. You will have a consultation with a plastic surgeon and an assessment by a psychiatrist, or psychologist. It will then be decided whether there is enough social, psychological, or physical benefit to be gained to justify surgery."
Private prices for a brachioplasty (upper arm lift) operation can be in the range of £3,000 to £4,000.
The ideal candidate for an upper arm lift or brachioplasty procedure is a person with visible saggy skin around the upper arm area. This looseness may be a result of the skin becoming more “baggy” as you age, or because you have lost a great deal of weight.
Liposuction (the sucking out of fat from underneath the skin through a tube) can be performed alongside an upper arm lift to improve the final result.
As well as the lengthy recovery time, the long visible scars are a major drawback after this surgery. However, in a surgeon’s skilled hands, the results from this operation can dramatically improve the appearance of droopy skin in the upper arm area.
It is very important for you to describe exactly how you imagine the final cosmetic result will look with an experienced surgeon who also performs liposuction. He can then assess you properly and recommend the most appropriate procedure, or combination of procedures, for you.
How long the surgery will last is difficult to predict, and depends upon maintaining good control over your weight. If you gain too much weight afterwards, your skin will start to stretch. Your surgeon can discuss for how long he expects your arms to remain tight and smooth, based on his own experience and the experience of his colleagues.
Before and After Pictures
Please note that results of cosmetic surgery vary enormously, depending upon both the patient and the skill of the individual surgeon, so outcomes for procedures will always be more variable than those for less invasive non-surgical treatments.
(All before and after photographs featured are real patients treated by highly experienced surgeons, your results may differ).
Female upper arm before surgery.
Female upper arm after brachioplasty surgery.
Scar following upper arm lift surgery - 6 weeks post operation.
Photographs courtesy of Angelica Kavouni MD, FRCS, EBOPRAS, Plastic Surgeon at Cosmetic Solutions Ltd.