What are the potential risks of arm lift surgery?

Written by: Miss Judith Hunter
Published: | Updated: 04/10/2023
Edited by: Laura Burgess

When it comes to having any surgical procedure there is always a risk involved. If you’re considering arm lift surgery, or brachioplasty, your surgeon will explain the potential complications before you decide to go ahead. Of course, if your doctor did not think it was safe in your particular case, they would caution against having the procedure altogether.

Brachioplasty is a fairly straightforward surgery in concept and the risks are low. Here, one of our top surgeons Miss Judith Hunter explains the potential complications from arm lift surgery.


What are the possible risks of arm lift surgery?

The following are the potential complications that are specific to arm lift surgery:

  • Asymmetry – there may be subtle differences between the appearance of the arms after surgery.
  • Seroma – sometimes a collection of fluid can occur in the arm. If this happens, it will need to be drained by a needle in the clinic.
  • Wound breakdown – it is not uncommon for wounds to gape open a little after surgery and with brachioplasty in particular, there is a delicate balance between a good contour and a tight closure. This results in some wound breakdown. This means that you will need dressing changes for a little longer than two to three weeks. The wounds will eventually heal well although the scars may be a little lumpy.
  • Dog ears – in plastic surgery ‘dog ear’ is used to describe a point or fold at the ends of the surgical scars. These usually settle down but it can take several months. If they do not settle, they can be trimmed in a simple procedure with only a local anaesthetic.
  • Nerve damage – close to where the operation takes place there are superficial nerves that may be damaged by surgery. This can vary from a patch of numbness in your upper inner arm to shooting pain in and around the scar. The ulnar nerve is a major nerve in your arm and close to the elbow but it would be very unusual if it were to be damaged by surgery.
  • Arm and/or shoulder stiffness - We encourage patients to avoid putting any strain on the wound whilst it is healing and advise you not to raise your arms above shoulder level for two to three weeks. It is important after this time period that you do some simple shoulder exercises to prevent stiffness.

What are other potential risks in general surgery?

It is possible for a blood clot to occur in the legs or for the lungs to develop a chest infection after any general anaesthetic although there is a low risk of this occurring. We do everything we can to prevent this from happening. During the operation, you will have compression stockings and calf compressors on and you will be advised to walk around as soon as you can after surgery.
Following surgery, it is normal to be a little bruised and swollen, however, it is unusual to have excessive ongoing bleeding. If this happens, the affected arm will swell up soon after the procedure or there will be excessive bleeding from the suture line. It is possible but rare that you would need to return to the operating theatre for it to be corrected.

If you are considering arm surgery, do not hesitate to book a first consultation at Miss Hunter’s clinic now.

By Miss Judith Hunter
Plastic surgery

Miss Judith Hunter is a Senior Consultant Plastic Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgeon based at Imperial College Healthcare NHS and Imperial Private Healthcare London with a special interest in all forms of breast surgery, including DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction and TUG Flap Breast Reconstruction.  Miss Hunter's work in breast reconstruction has served to finesse her cosmetic surgery procedures offered to her private patients: she regularly performs breast reductions, having performed around 1000 breast reductions over the last few years; together with breast uplift (mastopexy); breast augmentation (breast enlargement - using implants or fat transfer to breasts); augment mastopexy (breast enlargement and uplift) and removal of implants and capsulectomies and exchange.  Miss Hunter also has extensive experience in body contouring, regularly performing abdominoplasty (tummy tuck); brachioplasty (arm lift): and inner thigh lift procedures, combined with liposuction and also labiaplasty procedures.   

Miss Hunter has undertaken three microsurgery fellowships, at the Royal Marsden and St Thomas's Hospitals in London and a year in Australia.

Miss Hunter originally graduated from the University of Cambridge with a First Class Honours degree and trained for over 10 years in plastic and reconstructive surgery in Cambridge and London. She attained her FRCS (Plast) in 2011 and achieved her specialist registration in plastic surgery in 2013. In 2015 she joined the consultant plastic surgery team at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, primarily to perform immediate microsurgical flap reconstruction for breast cancer patients, her post was made substantive in May 2016.

Miss Hunter has performed over 300 DIEP free flaps over the last few years, helping the Plastic Surgery Department at Imperial College Healthcare NHS to become the second largest free flap provider for breast reconstruction in the UK; she has set up a breast reconstruction clinic at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, working together with fellow breast surgeons; she is also trained in medical tattooing, and in microsurgery for lymphoedema.

Miss Hunter teaches at the Royal College of Surgeons courses on oncoplastic breast reconstruction and is a faculty member of the Masters Programme in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery; she has over 25 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and has presented widely at national and international meetings.

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