Loose and flabby upper arms are a common side effect of both weight changes and aging. Often referred to as a "bat wing," this problem can make it embarrassing to wear short sleeves or sleeveless tops. Fortunately, it is a problem that can be simply fixed by removing the loose skin in a procedure called an arm lift or brachioplasty.
During your initial consultation, you’ll discuss your problem areas and the goals you have for your arm lift. Dr. Davidson will evaluate your situation, talk to you about what you can realistically expect from the surgery, and discuss the various options available to you.
Most patients will require the standard brachioplasty, which uses an incision from the elbow to the underarm. This allows the removal of excess skin and fat throughout the entire upper arm. A minimal incision brachioplasty is another option that leaves only a small scar confined to the underarm region, but it is only useful in cases where the excess skin is thin and located near the underarm. For patients with good skin elasticity, simple liposuction may be another alternative to a full brachioplasty. Other patients opt to add liposuction to their arm lift to remove additional fat. Finally, patients with excess skin and fat along the chest under the arm can choose the extended brachioplasty, which continues the arm incision down the chest to remove that extra tissue.
An arm lift begins with the patient being put under either general anesthesia or local anesthesia with intravenous sedation. Dr. Davidson will make the necessary incisions on the inner arm to keep them as inconspicuous as possible. Any liposuction will be done, then excess skin and fat is trimmed off. Finally, the incisions will be brought together and closed, and a sterile dressing and compression garment will be applied.
A brachioplasty is normally an outpatient procedure, so you’ll be going home the same day. You will experience some discomfort, but it will be controllable with oral medication and should begin to decrease within 48 hours. There will also be bruising and swelling, which will peak around 36 hours after surgery before gradually fading over the next two weeks. The scars will be quite vivid for the first few weeks, but they’ll gradually lighten and flatten over the next 9-12 months.
You’ll need to wear a compression garment for the first days after surgery to control swelling, and it’s a good idea to keep your arms elevated above your heart as much as you can. You should sleep with pillows under your arms to keep them elevated through the night. For the first four weeks, exercise other than walking should generally be avoided. After that point, you can probably resume normal activities, provided you have medical approval.
The arm lift is a safe procedure, but it does carry the same concerns as all other surgeries, including risks of bleeding, hematoma, infection, and reactions to anesthesia. In addition, changes in sensation are common for the first few months after surgery. These changes typically go away relatively quickly, but numbness can occasionally remain for a year or more.
Arm Lift FAQs
Q. The skin on my forearms is sagging. Will an arm lift help with that?
A. An arm lift only reduces skin on the upper arms, but it is quite possible to perform a forearm lift either on its own or in conjunction with an arm lift. The procedure is similar and involves an incision on the inner arm from the elbow toward the wrist with the length of the incision dependent on the amount of skin that needs to be removed.
Q. Is there a way to tighten the skin on my arms without surgery?
A. It entirely depends on your situation. Laser skin tightening and creams are generally ineffectual, but if the excess skin is very minimal and has only recently developed as a result of weight loss, it may shrink with time naturally. Dr. Davidson can provide a professional evaluation of your situation at your consultation.
Q. I feel self-conscious in sleeveless dresses because my arms are very muscular. Can an arm lift reduce the size of muscular arms?
A. In theory, the amount of muscle in your arms could be surgically reduced; however, this would probably damage the functionality of your arms, so it’s not a good idea. If you have fat on top of the muscles in your arms, this could be reduced via liposuction for overall smaller arms, but there is the chance that this could result in more muscle definition than you would like. Dr. Davidson can present you with your options during your consultation.
Q. Will an arm lift help with the extra skin hanging over my elbows?
A. It will help somewhat, but in order to get the maximum benefit, the incision will need to extend farther down the arm, so it’s a bit of a trade-off.
Q. Can a person’s arms be too big for an arm lift?
A. Any arm can be reduced via a brachioplasty, but heavier arms do make it more difficult. In some cases with larger upper arms, it may be ideal to do liposuction before the arm lift in order to remove much of the extra fat, but this needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Dr. Davidson can give you a thorough assessment when you meet with him.