Arm lift surgery: what are the benefits?

Written by: Mr Ian Grant
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

Arm lift surgery is an operation often referred to as a brachioplasty, which is carried out in order to address unwelcome changes in the appearance of a patients’ upper arms.


Plastic surgeon Mr Ian Grant talks about the benefits of an arm lift and what you need to know before considering this cosmetic procedure.



The youthful appearance of upper arms depends on skin quality, fat distribution and muscle shape. The changes associated with ageing and excess weight can cause the shape of the upper arm to change.


Upper arm skin is relatively thin and wrinkles with age. The upper arm is also prone to fat accumulation. The connective tissue sling, which in youth would normally maintain the contour of the upper arm, fails with age. These changes produce loose excess skin and fat.


Arm lift surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic and involves the excision of an ellipse of excess skin, tightening of the soft tissue sling (a layer of thicker tissue below the skin often referred to as the superficial fascial system) and removal of excess fat by excision and liposuction.


Who is the procedure most suited for?

Over 24,000 patients in the USA had brachioplasty surgery in 2016, which is a four-fold increase when compared with 2001. This is a relatively common procedure most suited to patients that have lost excess weight. It is not suitable for patients that still have an unhealthy weight. The operation takes about 2 hours. It is commonly carried out in combination with another procedure such as an abdominoplasty. The operation is most suited for patients with excess and redundant skin.


If a patient lifts their arms to 90 degrees away from their body, with their elbows flexed, the excess skin and fat that can be pinched hanging below the upper arm is removed during surgery. This produces a long scar that can run as far as the elbow. Mr Grant spends a lot of time with patients before surgery in order to understand where best to position the scar.


How much does the procedure cost?

This surgery is usually offered as a “fixed price package” that includes the operation, surgeon’s fee, anaesthetist’s fee, a one-night stay in hospital, and aftercare. This usually costs between £3000 and £5000 (in 2019).


What things do I need to take into consideration before surgery?

All cosmetic surgery is carried out as a choice rather than a need. For arm-lift surgery the risks are relatively small, and complications are relatively rare, but patients do need to carefully consider how they would cope if there was a problem.


The risks include infection, bleeding, fluid accumulation below the scar, wound healing problems, nerve irritation (most commonly causing patches of numbness in the patient’s forearms after surgery) and lumpy scarring.


In one study the risk of major complications in isolated arm lift surgery was as high as three in every 100 patients. When the operation was performed in combination with another procedure the likelihood rose to four in every 100 patients.


How long do the results last?

The changes in the contour of the patient’s upper arms should be longstanding. The scar will slowly fade and blend with the surrounding skin but will never disappear. With good patient selection (only offering the operation to patients with loose, excess skin and a healthy weight), and good patient preparation, this is a very successful operation with high levels of patient satisfaction.


Are you considering an arm lift or would you like further information? If the answer is yes, don’t hesitate to reach out to Mr Ian Grant with all your questions.


By Mr Ian Grant
Plastic surgery

Mr Ian Grant is a plastic surgeon based in Cambridge. He was appointed as a consultant with expertise in plastic surgery and hand surgery in 2005. He served as Clinical Director for plastic surgery at Addenbrooke's Hospital 2010-2014.

He has expertise in a range of plastic surgery procedures including breast reduction, breast augmentation, brachioplasty, abdominoplasty, correction of scarring and post-traumatic reconstruction.

He regularly treats skin cancer and is part of the local multi-disciplinary team. He treats most acute and chronic hand problems including carpal tunnel syndrome, Dupuytren's disease, trauma, nerve compression, and osteoarthritis.

Mr Grant graduated in medicine from Oxford University in 1991. He trained as a plastic surgeon in Salisbury, East Grinstead (where he carried out research for a doctorate in the field of wound healing and scarring), London (Mount Vernon), Cambridge, Leeds, and Melbourne, Australia.

He is a regular reviewer for the Journal of Hand Surgery (European Edition), and was elected to the council of the British Society for Surgery of the Hand. He has published extensively, he is the director of a 2 day course on reconstructive surgery, and another on hand surgery. He is regularly invited to lecture or teach on plastic surgery or hand surgery.


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