American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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Bat wings begone: How an arm lift can help you look your best

how an arm lift can help you look your best

Rapid weight loss and normal aging can change the body significantly and sometimes unexpectedly. Loose and sagging skin is one of the most common side effects of aging and excess or rapid weight loss.

Sometimes called "bat wings," excess skin hanging off the bottom of the upper arm can make people self-conscious. Unfortunately, no amount of strength training, muscle conditioning or dieting can improve the look of drooping skin.

If you are preparing for t-shirt weather or want to rock the sundress trend this spring, an arm lift may give you the confidence boost you need. Shed the sag and turn yourself into a spring chick with help from a board-certified plastic surgeon.

What is an arm lift?

The arm lift is a surgical procedure that removes excess skin and fatty tissue from the upper arm.

"Arm lifts come into play when liposuction is not enough," said ASPS Member Surgeon Aviva Preminger, MD. "It addresses loose skin. What happens when someone has extra fat and loose skin when you suction out the fat and energy introduction (such as laser or radiofrequency skin tightening) isn't enough to tighten the skin? You end up in a position where the only way to address that extra skin is to surgically remove that skin."

Like any surgical procedure, an incision is required, which means there will be some scarring, although your surgeon will strategically make incisions to hide the scars.

"This is accomplished by making an incision in the upper arm to remove the excess tissue," said ASPS Member Surgeon Josef Hadeed, MD, FACS. "In some cases, the incision may have to be extended to the armpit area. Depending on the amount of fatty tissue in the arm, liposuction can be used as an adjunct to remove some of the excess tissue and further contour the upper arm."

How an arm lift can help you look your best

An arm lift removes excess, sagging skin and fat, tightening the upper arm area. Plastic surgeons can thus contour the arms, enhancing aesthetic results by providing the toned look many people desire. Some are then less self-conscious about wearing specific clothing afterward and don't have to worry about their extra skin waving goodbye to people along with their hands.

"The ideal situation is for this to be part of an overall plan to take care of themselves and involve a healthy diet and regular exercise," said Dr. Preminger.

Once the extra skin and fat are removed, people have the opportunity to really create some definition in the arm area through diet and exercise to maintain long-term results.

Does clipping your wings put you out of commission?

While an arm lift is a surgical procedure, it may not be as painful as you imagine.

"Arm lifts just don't hurt that much," said Dr. Preminger. "What I do tell patients is that it is uncomfortable."

You use your arms daily, meaning you need to limit movement during recovery, which can be uncomfortable and annoying.

"You minimize the amount of movement of your arms and limit what you lift to no more than 10 pounds for the first few weeks," said Dr. Hadeed. "Most patients are able to return to work within two weeks after the procedure, but for people with more physically demanding jobs, it might require additional time off before returning to work."

So, after an arm lift, no heavy lifting or intense exercise, but brushing your teeth will be okay.

"The science of healing is that it takes six weeks for an incision to fully heal and gain its full strength back, which means if you put enough tension on a repair, you could theoretically open it," said Dr. Preminger. "The closer you get to that six-week mark, the greater the strength of the repair, so you can slowly do more."

Things to consider before an arm lift

While an arm lift can boost your self-confidence and enhance your physique, there are some things you need to consider before undergoing surgery. The first is whether you are a suitable candidate for the procedure.

"A good candidate for an arm lift is someone with significant skin laxity in the upper arm whose weight has been stable and who is not significantly overweight," said Dr. Hadeed. "If someone has lost weight, they must be committed to keeping off the excess weight."

Ensuring you're at a stable weight is a critical step prior to surgery.

"The worst thing to do is to go through a whole procedure, lose more weight and then end up with more excess skin," said Dr. Preminger.

As a patient, you want to ensure you are addressing your concerns at the proper point in time. That generally means having a reasonably stable weight for at least 12 to 18 months and good general health.

There is another issue patients need to consider involving scaring.

"A traditional arm lift leaves the patient with a scar extending from the armpit down to the elbow," said Dr. Preminger. "There are some modifications. Mini-arm lifts that can be done with a scar in the armpit are definitely less effective at contouring but leave much less of a scar."

She said for her patients, she tries to place the scar in a less visible area, and with proper treatment, scars can fade over time.

One final recommendation from Dr. Hadeed is that if you are considering an arm lift, be sure to consult with a plastic surgeon who is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.


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