Brachioplasty, or arm lift, is a plastic surgery procedure that removes excess skin to tighten and tone the appearance of the upper arms.

Arm Lift Candidates

If you have recently lost a great deal of weight through bariatric surgery or if several pregnancies have caused you to gain and lose weight over time, you may bothered by drooping excess skin along your upper arm. In order to qualify for surgery, patients with excess skin on the arms should be in good health, not smoke cigarettes, and have realistic expectations about the results of surgery.

Prior to undergoing surgery, patients should follow their surgeons instructions, which may include:

  • Do not smoke for at least four weeks before surgery
  • Stop taking blood-thinning medications three to four weeks before surgery
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery
  • Do not wear jewelry, contact lenses, or make-up on the day of surgery

Arm Lift Surgery Techniques

If the surplus skin on your upper arms keeps you from wearing your favorite clothes or wanting to raise your arms over your head, consider an arm lift to restore a youthful looking contour to your arms. Arm lift is a surgical procedure that can be performed using two techniques. The full upper arm lift involves an incision in the armpit and along the underside of the arm to the elbow. In the mini arm lift, the incision is made in the arm pit.

Upper Arm Lift

The upper arm lift, also called a brachioplasty, is a technique used to surgically remove excess skin that droops from the upper arm. In most cases, this skin is a result of rapid weight loss or loss of skin elasticity due to the natural aging process.

The upper arm lift operation begins with an incision along the arm. The location and length of the incision will vary depending on the amount of skin you wish to have removed, as well as the location of the excess skin flap. In the most extreme cases, the incision may extend from the armpit to the elbow to remove the maximum amount of skin. Your doctor may create either a curved or z-shaped incision during the procedure to minimize the appearance of scarring after healing.

Mini Arm Lift

The mini arm lift may be an option for patients who need only minor revision to the skin on their upper arms. The procedure for mini arm lift is similar to that of a full arm lift; excess skin and fat are removed to create a more pleasing appearance. The difference, however, is that in a mini arm lift, the incision is much smaller. In most cases, the surgeon can locate the scar in the armpit, where it is much less noticeable than down the length of the upper arm.

The mini arm lift procedure is usually used for patients who have lost a moderate amount of weight due to diet and exercise, or for those who have developed some excess skin through aging. Most bariatric surgery patients will require traditional brachioplasty, as a mini arm lift is unable to provide the drastic revision necessary after extreme weight loss.

Arm Lift Recovery

After your arm lift, you will be bandaged and given a prescription for pain medication to ease your discomfort in the first few days after surgery. In general, patients take two to three weeks off of work and other obligations to recover from surgery. Patients should return to see their plastic surgeon about one week after surgery so sutures and bandages can be removed, and four weeks after surgery so the surgeon can check results. During this time, it is common to experience post-surgical side effects.

Side Effects

Arm lift surgery side effects include:

  • Discomfort
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Tightness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Numbness


Although serious risks after surgery are much less common, complications can occur, Possible risks associated with arm lift surgery include:

  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Significant bleeding
  • Swelling of the hands
  • Seromas
  • Hematoma
  • Permanent loss of sensation

Arm Lift Results

The arm lift procedure produces excellent results in patients, as illustrated in these before and after photos. The results of surgery will be visible immediately after surgery. However, best results are typically seen two to three months after surgery, once all of the swelling has gone down. Keep in mind that a full arm lift is impossible to do without leaving a scar. After one year, the scar will fade. Most patients feel that the benefits of brachioplasty far outweigh the scars left behind by the surgery. Visit the DocShop gallery to view more arm lift before and after photos.

Photo credit: Mountcastle Plastic Surgery

Arm Lift Costs

According to the American Society of American Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of arm lift surgery in 2011 was $3,790. However, additional fees, including the surgical facility, anesthesiologist, and medication, are not included in this estimated price.

Complementary Procedures and Alternatives

If you have excess fat on your arms, you may choose to combine your brachioplasty with liposuction for the best results. After suctioning fat and tightening the skin on the arm, your surgeon will remove the surplus skin of your upper arm and complete the lift by suturing the incision closed. Other procedures that are often performed in combination with arm lift surgery include tummy tuck and thigh lift surgery.

For patients that want to improve the appearance of the arms, but prefer less invasive treatments, non-surgical body contouring such as laser skin tightening, Thermage® for the body, VelaShape™, and Zerona® may be right for you. Keep in mind, however, that these treatments do not offer the dramatic results that can be achieved with plastic surgery.

Locate a Cosmetic Surgeon

If you are unhappy with the appearance of excess skin on your upper arms, a full or mini arm lift may be right for you. The best way to find out if you are a candidate for either type of brachioplasty is to contact a plastic surgeon in your area through DocShop.

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