Brachioplasty, or arm lift, is a cosmetic surgery to reshape the upper arm. During the procedure, a surgeon removes fat and may reshape droopy or sagging skin.

Brachioplasty has grown in popularity over the last several decades, with 22,829 procedures performed in 2014.

The procedure works best in people who have stable body weight, are not significantly overweight, and have tried other methods to reshape their arms. Doctors usually recommend more conservative methods before resorting to surgical treatment.

Often, people who choose to have an arm lift have gained or lost significant amounts of weight, causing the skin to stretch or sag. Exercise typically does not correct this, and weight loss will not remove the sagging skin.

Read on to learn more about what brachioplasty is, reasons to have it, risks, and what to expect.

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Brachioplasty is an upper arm lift that targets the area from the underarm to the elbow. It involves removing excess fat as well as loose or sagging skin.

During the procedure, a surgeon creates an incision on the underside of the arm. The size of the incision and the specific surgical technique depend on the patient and the surgeon’s preference.

Brachioplasty is usually bilateral, which means that it treats both arms.

However, in some cases, a person might choose a unilateral brachioplasty. They may decide this if they only wish to treat one arm or intend to treat one arm at a time.

Over time, the skin loses elasticity. This can cause it to droop or sag.

When people have excess skin, this effect may be especially noticeable. This commonly occurs in those who lose a significant amount of weight or spend much of their life at an unstable weight.

Weight loss alone with not remove excess skin. People do not always lose fat evenly throughout their bodies, and targeted exercises do not reduce fat in specific areas.

This may mean a person has excess fat on their arms that diet and exercise do not resolve.

Brachioplasty can remove excess pockets of fat as well as saggy or excess skin. However, it is a cosmetic procedure that does not improve a person’s health and is not a substitute for diet or exercise.

Despite this, having excess skin can make a person feel unhappy or self-conscious. Procedures such as brachioplasty may improve self-image and mental health, especially if a person has lost a significant amount of weight.

As with all surgeries, brachioplasty carries some risks. They include:

  • Poor or inadequate results: Some people may not get the results they hope for. A 2020 study of 56 people who underwent brachioplasty following significant weight loss had a satisfaction rate of 71.4%, with 37.5% needing revision surgery.
  • Scarring: Brachioplasty requires a doctor to cut into the skin, which leaves scars. The 2020 study of weight loss patients found that 25% had poor scarring. A 2021 meta-analysis found a lower rate of unusual scarring at 9.9%.
  • Infection: Any surgery can cause infections, and brachioplasty is no exception. The 2021 meta-analysis found an overall infection rate of 3.64%. Some infections can be serious enough to require antibiotics, hospitalization, or surgery.
  • Anesthesia complications: Some people have a negative reaction to anesthesia. This can be mild, such as nausea after surgery, or severe, such as difficulty waking up.
  • Injuries: Some people experience other injuries, such as swelling at the incision site, bruising, or nerve damage.
  • Bleeding: Some people develop excessive bleeding during or after surgery. The 2020 study found that 8.9% of people who had surgery had bleeding severe enough to require a blood transfusion.

A doctor will advise about specific steps for preparation.

In most cases, a person will need to avoid food and water in the 12 hours prior to surgery. They may need to stop taking medication that can increase the risk of bleeding. People who smoke should also stop smoking before surgery to reduce their risk of serious complications.

A person should tell the surgeon about any medications, as well as any medical conditions, no matter how minor.

Right before surgery, an anesthesiologist will give a person medication to make them fall asleep. They will usually receive this medication through a catheter in their vein.

During surgery, a person is unconscious and should not feel any pain.

First, the doctor will make an incision along the inner arm and then remove the excess skin and fat after measuring exactly how much can be safely removed. They will likely place a drainage tube and then close the skin with stitches.

These stitches usually dissolve on their own, which means a person does not have to have them removed.

Immediately after surgery, a person will wake up in the post-surgical care unit. They may feel groggy, confused, or nauseous. Their wounds will have bandages on them, and there may be a tube in the skin to drain excess fluid.

After surgery, the reduction in fat and loose skin should be immediately apparent. However, a person will also have bruising and swelling that may take several weeks to go down.

Swelling is a very common complication, and gravity will cause the swelling to move down to the hands. Hand swelling can make some daily activities, such as typing and using keys, more difficult. While this swelling is temporary, people should ask family members and friends, if possible, to assist with household tasks after their surgery.

People may also experience pain or bleeding after surgery.

A doctor may prescribe medication to help with the pain. They will also provide follow-up and aftercare instructions, as well as information on when a person can return to their usual routine.

A person should contact a doctor after surgery if they:

  • develop a fever
  • have intense pain
  • feel very sick
  • experience significant bleeding

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about brachioplasty.

Who might be the ideal candidate for surgery?

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that people who meet all of the following criteria are good surgical candidates:

  • nonsmokers
  • people who are not significantly overweight
  • people whose weight is relatively stable — not those actively losing or gaining weight
  • people with realistic expectations — not those who expect surgery to radically change their body
  • people with loose skin

How much does it cost?

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of an arm lift is $4,861.

This figure does not take into account anesthesia, the cost of the operating room, or a stay in the hospital if there are complications, so it does not represent the full cost of the procedure.

Does it leave a scar, and when will that heal?

Surgery often leaves a scar. A standard brachioplasty involves a long incision from the armpit to the elbow, and while the scar will fade with time, it can be noticeable.

Research generally finds that scarring is one of the most common complications of surgery. A 2020 study of people who had brachioplasty following significant weight loss found that 25% experienced poor scarring.

Will insurance cover costs?

Insurance does not typically cover cosmetic surgery, including brachioplasty.

In certain rare cases where surgery is medically necessary, a person may have coverage. For example, if folds of skin cause infections or skin rashes, insurance may pay the bill.

Brachioplasty can help improve a person’s satisfaction with their appearance if their arms have sagging or drooping skin, or if exercise and diet do not help with fat deposits. People who lose large quantities of weight are often good candidates for this surgery.

It will not prevent additional weight gain, nor will it prevent the development of additional loose skin. A plastic surgeon may be able to help a person assess whether this is the right procedure for a person’s treatment goals.