Brachioplasty, or armlift, is a surgical procedure designed to remove excess skin from the upper arm. It is a procedure that commonly is performed in patients who have lost a large amount of weight and are left with loose sagging skin on the arms. This procedure can tighten the loose skin on the arms, but comes with a visible permanent scar that runs along the inside of the upper arms. The appearance of the arm scar is unpredictable, but the scars tend to fade with time.
Who is a candidate?
Patients of any age with loose skin on the upper arms may be candidates for this procedure.
Before the procedure
Your plastic surgeon will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your arms, including any limitations in range of motion or previous injuries or surgeries. You will receive specific guidelines about preparing for surgery, including:
- Smoking cessation
- Medications to avoid
- When to take your prescribed medications
- Proper washing techniques
- Restrictions regarding eating and drinking the night before surgery
Your plastic surgeon will listen carefully to your concerns about excess skin on your arms, as well as your surgical goals and expectations. The length and position of the scar on your arms will be discussed, and the surgeon can draw the approximate scar location on your arm with a medical skin marker.
The most common alternative to removal of the skin is liposuction. Although this option usually avoids a scar, it can make loose skin worse. Another option is a “short scar” brachioplasty, which keeps the scar in the armpit region, but it will not be useful for patients who have excess skin encircling the arm. Risks and benefits specific to all procedures will be discussed in greater detail during your initial consultation.
In addition to the aesthetic evaluation, your surgeon will perform a careful evaluation of your overall health, as well as issues that could cause complications, such as:
- Your blood pressure
- Bleeding tendencies
- History of adverse scar formation after previous surgeries
Where will the surgery be performed?
A brachioplasty usually is done in a hospital as outpatient surgery. You must be driven to and from the hospital by a friend or family member. If you are combining a brachioplasty with another body contouring procedure, you probably will stay one night in the hospital.
Type of anesthesia
Brachioplasty typically is done under general anesthesia.
Immediate postoperative recovery
In most cases, patients may experience pain in the arms for the first 24 to 48 hours, and compressive wraps are placed on the arms. You may have drains that typically stay in for one week.
In most cases, patients will be able to go out in public in two or three days, and light use of the arms, such as personal grooming and computer use, is permitted immediately after surgery. You should keep your arms elevated for the first week. Showering is permitted within the first several days. Vigorous physical activity is limited for four weeks following surgery.
Swelling in the hands can increase a few weeks after surgery as you start using your arms more frequently.
A brachioplasty tightens the skin on the upper arm, but involves a permanent scar and is considered major surgery. Brachioplasty does not correct loose skin on the forearm and there may be a noticeable transition where the newly tightened skin of the upper arm meets the forearm. In addition to the risks associated with anesthesia, you may experience some patches of numbness on the forearm because of the skin removal but this improves with time and does not affect the function of the arm or the hand.
Not every person is a candidate for this procedure, and your risks may be greater or different than those of other patients. Your plastic surgeon will review all potential risks and complications with you prior to the surgery.
Portions of the wound may be slow to heal, especially in the armpit where it is moist and there is a lot of motion. Infection and bleeding are uncommon with brachioplasty, but can occur. In rare cases, patients may experience prolonged or even permanent arm swelling (lymphedema).
Brachioplasty usually produces a tightened and more youthful and attractive appearance to the upper arm. The permanent scar may stay thick and red, but tends to fade over time and reaches its final appearance over 12 to 18 months.