Arm, thigh and buttock lifts are surgical techniques to eliminate loose and sagging skin.

What happens during the procedure?

The procedure is usually performed in an outpatient surgical center, either operated by your surgeon or a hospital facility, and takes 2-3 hours, but depending on the extent of the procedure, it can take longer. If you are having more than one procedure, overnight hospitalization may be required.

Lift surgery can be performed under local anesthesia, along with intravenous sedation, or general anesthesia depending on your health, the extent of the procedure and whether you are having other procedures at the same time.

For an arm lift, incisions are made on the inner and under surface of the arm, often in a zigzag pattern. The surgical opening may run from the armpit to as low as the elbow. As the excess skin and fat is removed, the remaining skin is stretched and sutured into place and the incisions are bandaged. An arm lift usually takes about two hours. After a monitored time in the recovery room, patients can usually go home the same day.

For thigh lifts, excess skin is lifted and removed through incisions made in the inner thigh and/or high upper outer thigh. The incisions are extensive but are usually not visible when clothing is worn. Simultaneous lifting of the thighs and buttocks is done using incisions that follow a French-cut bathing suit line only a bit higher up on the hip. The surgeon lifts and removes the excess skin down to the muscle and removes the thick layer of fat beneath the skin. Drain tubes may be placed at the incision to draw out fluids. The surgery usually takes two to three hours. Your surgeon may recommend an overnight stay in the hospital before being allowed to go home.

A buttock lift is not a common procedure, because it requires leaving scars across the buttock or in the fold. This is usually not desirable and patients opt for liposuction instead.

Are there risks or potential side effects?

As with all surgeries, there is always a possibility of complications, including infection, a reaction to the anesthesia, hematoma, seroma, nerve damage and the occurrence of asymmetries or irregularities. Should infection occur, your surgeon will prescribe a treatment with antibiotics. Occasionally, the superficial lymphatic system in the groin is interrupted during a thigh lift surgery. If this should occur, excessive swelling will probably occur for several weeks as the lymphatic channels form again. This is an uncommon problem, but it requires some patience and understanding if it does occur. Be sure to ask your surgeon about all of the risks associated with the procedure your considering before you make any decision.

What to expect post-procedure?

The areas operated on will initially feel tight and swollen. The swelling is mild to moderate, and peaks at two to three days. Usually, the sutures are covered with adhesive strips (steri-strips), skin tape and surgical gauze. Small amounts of oozing and bleeding are very common but should be no more than a slow staining of the gauze dressing. Because of the location of the incisions for a thigh lift, it is impossible to avoid lying on them. Change position at least every 30 minutes and move as carefully as possible while putting as little stress on the incision lines as possible.

You will probably have several layers of stitches with both arm lift and thigh/buttock/hip lifts. Some will be re-absorbed by the body and some may need to be removed by your surgeon. You will be able to shower on the third day after surgery. Moderate pain can be anticipated after this procedure. Your surgeon may prescribe pain medication for the first few days, after which acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen may be all that you require.

Numbness in small areas on the thighs is possible but usually disappears gradually over several months. Although most bruising and swelling will disappear within 3 weeks, some swelling may remain for 6 months and up to a year. The extent of the post-operative swelling and bruising is dependent on whether you tend to bruise or swell easily. The amount you can expect varies for each individual but past surgeries or injuries should be a good indication. Keep your head elevated, above the level of your heart, when lying down. Applying cold compresses, or ice packs will reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Many patients use a water-tight plastic sandwich bag filled with frozen berries or peas. Regular icing is the key to relieving the swelling.

As with any surgery, it is also sometimes normal to feel anxious or depressed in the days or weeks following the operation. If there is heavy bleeding or increased pain, be sure to inform your surgeon.

How soon does normal life resume?

For the first week following surgery, you will be allowed light activity but you must avoid bending or lifting. Although you may not feel like it, you should try to walk as soon as possible after a thigh lift to reduce swelling and prevent blood clots from forming in your legs. While each case is individual, recovery from arm lift generally takes one to two weeks; you’ll be able to return to work in a week, moderate exercise in 10 days to two weeks, more physical contact sports after a month. Thigh and buttocks lift recovery generally takes one to two weeks; you can usually return to work in a couple of weeks, and resume vigorous exercise or contact sports in approximately four to six weeks. Recovering individual and varies from person to person. After an arm or thigh lift, however, you will begin to see a noticeable difference in the shape of your body almost immediately with additional differences occurring the next 4 to 6 weeks as the swelling subsides.

Are you a good candidate?

Women who have had a mastectomy should not have an arm lift. Since the surgery affects the lymphatic drainage, the combined procedures may cause the arm to swell permanently. If you have had phlebitis (inflamed blood vessels) in either of your legs, you may not be a candidate for lift surgery. Most lifts require fairly lengthy incisions and scarring is visible, and each patient should be prepared for this. As with all elective surgery, good health and realistic expectations are prerequisites, but if you want to change the shape of your arms or thighs, then a lift surgery may be appropriate, but:

Tell your surgeon about any and all medical conditions and any allergies you may have and whether you are a smoker. Also, tell your surgeon about any medications, herbal supplements or natural supplements you are taking (both prescription and non-prescription).

  • Make sure you are not prone to scarring problems such as keloids
  • Make sure you have a good understanding of the healing process and the limitations of the procedure.

How to prepare for this procedure?

Your doctor will give you specific instructions to prepare for surgery but here are some general guidelines:

  • Avoid aspirin, any aspirin containing medication or any other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID), such as Motrin® or Advil®, for two weeks prior to treatment. Because aspirin thins the blood, it can interfere with normal blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.
  • Smoking inhibits the healing process, so stop smoking before your procedure and if you start again, make sure it is after you are completely healed.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol a few days before your surgery.
  • Make sure to follow any fasting instructions the night before and morning of your surgery. Your doctor may insist on an empty stomach depending on the type of anesthesia.
  • Make sure that you arrange for someone to bring you home and to help you out for 24 hours after surgery.

Are there alternatives to this procedure?

Arm or thigh liposuction can reduce a reduction in size but liposuction cannot alter skin quality and there may be extra skin once the fat has been removed. Although wearing the compression bands will help to firm the area, this extra skin may sag, especially if your skin was not particularly elastic. Such excess skin would necessitate an arm or thigh lift to reduce the amount of loose skin. Exercise, especially weight lifting, however, can significantly improve the shape and tone of the arms and, to a lesser extent, the thighs including that of the loose skin.