Upper Body Lift
Also known as body lift or back lift
Upper-body-lift surgery may consist of one or several procedures, including an upper arm lift, breast lift (or gynecomastia) or surgery to remove fat rolls along the back. Loose, sagging skin resulting from dramatic weight loss or after liposuction is removed to create a tighter and smoother contour, improving your profile and leading to renewed self-confidence.
When to Consider an Upper Body Lift
- You recently underwent massive weight loss through natural means or bariatric surgery.
- You have excess, sagging skin following pregnancy.
- You are discouraged by loose skin around your arms, chest or waist.
- You have “back rolls” or rolls of fat around the edges of your lower back.
- Your clothes will fit better and your body will appear slimmer.
- Loose skin that causes chafing and rashes will be removed.
- Surgery will smooth the bulges and rolls that make you self-conscious.
- There are fairly large scars that your surgeon will try to hide or minimize.
- This is a demanding plastic surgery procedure with a somewhat lengthy recovery period.
- You will probably need one to three days of hospitalization or skilled nursing care at home.
These are the top three pros and cons to weigh when considering an upper body lift. If you want to focus on what is unique to you, please consult with your aesthetic plastic surgeon.
Are you a good candidate for an upper body lift?
In order to undergo an upper body lift, you must be in good physical health. If you have lost a considerable amount of weight, have loose, sagging skin or want to improve the contours of your body, you might benefit from this procedure. The following are some common reasons why you may want to consider an upper body lift:
- You have undergone bariatric surgery or significant weight loss through dieting.
- Liposuction of fat pockets in your upper body has resulted in loose skin that needs to be removed.
- You have loose skin under your arms, by your armpits, on your breasts and rolls on your back.
- The layers of fat below your loose skin are relatively thin.
- You do not smoke. Smoking slows down the healing process and increases the risk of serious complications during and after surgery. If you smoke, you must quit six weeks before surgery.
- Your weight has been stable for at least six months, with no further weight loss expected. For optimal results, body contouring should not be done for about two years following the start of any massive-weight-loss program. This time allows your skin to shrink as much as possible and your nutrition to be stabilized and optimized, factors that will aid in your recovery.
- You are in overall good health without chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. People in poor health are not good candidates for body contouring procedures. Get clearance for plastic surgery from your primary care physician or from doctors treating you for medical conditions.
If you are in good general health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, you are most likely a good candidate for this procedure.
Detailed Procedural Info
How is an upper body lift procedure performed?
Patients who undergo an upper body lift will most likely be put under general anesthesia. Your experience will depend greatly on which procedures you elect to have done:
Upper arm lift
Individuals who are considering an upper arm lift, also known as brachioplasty, may have the fat removed from their arms by liposuction. If you want to have loose skin reduced on your arms, your doctor will make an incision underneath the armpit or along the back of the arm. For patients with massive weight loss, it’s likely this incision will run from the elbow to the armpit and perhaps extend along part of the upper chest wall and toward the back. Excess skin will then be removed through this incision.
If you are interested in a breast lift, your plastic surgeon will likely make three incisions: one around the areola, one extending from the bottom edge of the areola down to the breast crease (the inframammary fold) and the final incision underneath the breast, following its natural crease and curve. The surgeon will then remove any excess skin and relocate the nipple and areola to a higher position on the breast. This is the most common way to perform a breast lift; however, your surgeon may forego one or more of these incisions, depending on the shape and contours of your chest. For men, see gynecomastia surgery.
Those who want fat rolls removed from around their middle or lower back will have incisions on both sides of their midback (where their folds used to be) or near the bra line for women. The excess skin will be removed from the area and the incisions will be closed with absorbable sutures, glue or tape.
What are my options?
Depending on the areas of your body you wish to target, you may opt for an upper arm lift, a breast lift, surgery to remove fat rolls along the back or a combination of these procedures. Your plastic surgeon will help you determine which procedures are best for you.
What will my upper body lift incisions and scars be like?
Your surgeon will make a number of incisions when performing your upper body lift but will take extra care to hide the scars in areas that are not easily seen or are hidden by clothing.
Liposuction: Because liposuction incisions are small, the scars are also small. Most liposuction scars fade and are barely perceptible over time.
Upper arm lift (brachioplasty):
- Limited incision brachioplasty: Your scar will most likely be limited to the underarm area.
- Standard brachioplasty: Incisions are generally placed on the inside of the arm and may extend from the armpit (axilla) to just above the elbow.
- Extended brachioplasty: The standard brachioplasty incision is extended along the arm down to the body to address loose skin and fatty tissue under the arm area.
Breast lift: A breast lift commonly involves three incisions: around the areolas (nipples), downward from the areolas to the breast creases and horizontally along the breast creases.
Back lift: This incision goes across the midback and will be strategically located to be hidden by your bra strap or bathing suit strap.
Selecting a Surgeon
It’s important to choose your surgeon for the right reasons:
- Their education, training and certification
- Their experience with upper body lifts
- Your comfort with him or her
After finding a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area who is experienced in performing upper body lifts, you will need to make an office appointment for your consultation. Generally, because of the in-depth nature of the consultation, there is a cost associated with the initial visit.
Your initial consultation appointment
During your plastic surgery consultation, your surgeon will ask you about the areas of your body that you’d like to focus on, such as your arms, back or chest. He or she will examine these specific areas to evaluate whether they will benefit from surgery. The surgeon may draw lines on your body to demonstrate where incisions will be made or what improvements are possible. You may also view before-and-after photos to learn more about what results can be achieved with an upper body lift.
You should come to the consultation prepared to discuss your complete medical history and answer the following questions:
- Do you have any medical conditions or drug allergies? Are you being treated for any medical conditions?
- Have you had any previous surgeries?
- What are your current medications and vitamin and herbal supplements?
- What is your current use of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs?
- What is your history with any noninvasive cosmetic procedures?
- What outcome do you expect from the surgery? What is your chief motivation for undergoing an upper body lift?
Your surgeon may also:
- Ask you to look in a mirror and point out exactly what you would like to see improved.
- Take pictures for your medical record and use computer imaging to demonstrate the improvements you can expect.
- Evaluate your health status, including preexisting health conditions or risk factors.
- Evaluate the elasticity of your skin.
- Discuss your options and recommend a course of treatment.
- Discuss likely outcomes, including risks or potential complications.
- Discuss the type of anesthesia that will be used.
Your treatment plan
Based on your goals, physical characteristics and the surgeon’s years of training and experience, your surgeon will share recommendations and information with you, including:
- An approach to your surgery, including the type of procedure or combination of procedures.
- The outcomes that you can anticipate.
- Your financial investment in the procedure.
- Associated risks and complications.
- Options for anesthesia and surgery location.
- What you need to prepare for your surgery.
- What you can expect to experience after surgery.
- Show before-and-after photos of cases similar to yours and answer any questions.
Questions to ask your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For a general list of questions to ask your surgeon about his or her background, to find out about plastic surgery safety, and to plan your procedure.
We developed these questions to help you:
- Make the most informed and intelligent decisions about your procedure.
- Confirm that you have the right surgeon for your procedure.
- Make your initial consultation as rewarding as possible.
- Understand your options, potential outcomes and risks.
It is important for you to take an active role in your surgery, so please use this list of questions as a starting point for your initial consultation:
- Am I a good candidate for an upper body lift?
- Are the results I am seeking reasonable and realistic?
- Do you have before-and-after photos I can look at for the procedure I am undergoing?
- Will my scars be visible? Where will my scars be located?
- What kind of anesthesia do you recommend for me?
- What will be the costs associated with my surgery?
- What will you expect of me to get the best results?
- What kind of recovery period can I expect and when can I resume normal activities?
- What are the risks and complications associated with my procedure?
- How are complications handled?
- What are my options if the cosmetic outcome of my surgery does not meet the goals we agreed on?
Preparing for Your Procedure
Your surgeon will provide you with preoperative instructions, answer any questions you may have, take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam to determine your fitness for surgery. You also may be advised to visit your regular physician for a medical checkup. Patients who are also undergoing breast-lift surgery will likely need a mammogram before the day of their procedure.
In advance of your procedure, your surgeon will ask you to:
- Stop smoking before undergoing surgery to promote better healing.
- Avoid taking aspirin, certain anti-inflammatory drugs, and some herbal medications that can cause increased bleeding.
- Regardless of the type of surgery to be performed, hydration is very important before and after surgery for safe recovery.
- You should be at a stable, dependable weight before you undergo upper body lift. It is a good idea for your plastic surgeon to consult with your bariatric surgeon (if you have undergone this procedure) before surgery to determine whether you have achieved your final weight plateau.
- If weight benchmarks or lifestyle changes are recommended, do your best to comply with these to achieve the best surgical results and minimize the chance of complications.
- If your upper body lift is performed on an outpatient basis, be sure to arrange for someone to drive you to and from surgery and arrange for skilled nursing care for a number of days, as specified by your doctor.
Prepare your home for recovery.
- Establish a no-fail support system for the full recovery period advised by your surgeon. This is most critical to your recovery. If you have children less than five years of age, you must have someone to take care of them for at least two weeks. Lifting, driving and household tasks, such as laundry and cleaning, should not be attempted during your recovery from this procedure.
- Your doctor can suggest many conveniences that may help you. For example, it may be helpful to move objects off of high shelves, so they are easily reached.
- In advance of going to the hospital, prepare meals that can be easily reheated. Stock your refrigerator with lots of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Lean protein assists in healing. Salt increases swelling; avoid it!
- Arrange your nightstand with everything you’ll need within easy reach, including the telephone, reading material and TV remote. Prepare your bed with the necessary pillows or wedge pillows you might need for support.
- Ask your doctor about the most comfortable clothing to wear home from the hospital and make sure to wear slip-on shoes.
- Get all your chores out of the way in advance and try to have as little to worry about as possible.
What can I expect on the day of upper-body-lift surgery?
Your surgery may be performed in an accredited hospital, a free-standing ambulatory facility or an office-based surgical suite. Your surgeon will give you an estimate of how long your surgery will last based on the details of your procedure.
- You will receive medications to keep you comfortable during the surgical procedure. Local anesthesia combined with sedation may be an option, but general anesthesia is more commonly used for this procedure. An anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will be present to administer sedatives or general anesthesia and assist in monitoring you during surgery. After you are asleep, a breathing tube will be placed in your mouth to ensure that your airway is secure during position changes involved in the body lift procedure.
- For your safety during the surgery, various monitors will be used to check your heart, blood pressure, pulse and the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood.
- Your plastic surgeon will follow the surgical plan discussed with you before surgery. Once the operation has begun, he or she may decide to combine various techniques or change a technique to ensure the best result. It is important that you feel comfortable and trust your doctor to make these decisions.
When you wake up, you may find the following:
- Surgical drains have been placed to remove fluid that accumulates within the incisions.
- You are wearing a compression garment, which controls swelling, supports the suspended tissues, and smoothes and flattens the skin. This garment may be placed at the time of surgery or later.
After surgery, you will be taken into a recovery area, where you will continue to be closely monitored.
Before leaving for home, you (or someone looking after you) should feel comfortable emptying and resetting your drains.
You may go home on the day of surgery if you have skilled nursing help or you can spend two or three days in an aftercare center with a nurse, or in the hospital, unless you and your plastic surgeon have made other plans for your immediate postoperative recovery. Under no circumstances will you be permitted to go home alone or stay home without another adult present. Follow your doctor’s recommendation in relation to this decision.
Aftercare and Recovery
Your doctor will discuss how long it will be before you can return to your normal level of activity and work. After surgery, you and your caregiver will receive detailed instructions about your postsurgical care, including information about:
- Drains, if they have been placed
- Normal symptoms you will experience
- Any potential signs of complications
Immediately after your upper body lift
Depending on the intensity of your surgery and the number of procedures you undergo, you may be asked to stay in the hospital for up to two days as you recover, although many patients will be able to return home after a few hours.
- After upper-arm-lift surgery, you can expect to have compression garments placed around your incision sites.
- Following a breast lift, you will likely find gauze over your breasts after surgery and you may have a few drain tubes inserted, which can be removed after several days.
- If fat along the back has been removed, you will have a garment placed around the incision sites and may need to refrain from lying on your back until recovery is complete.
Recovery time frame after an upper body lift
No matter which procedures were included in your upper body lift, you will need to rest and refrain from any strenuous activity for several weeks; however, it is a good idea to get out of bed and move around occasionally to avoid problems resulting from blood clots.
- If you undergo brachioplasty surgery (upper arm lift), you will likely be advised to keep your arms elevated (above the heart) for a few days after the procedure. You will regain normal function of your arms and hands after two or three weeks.
- Surgery to target fat rolls on the back will typically require seven to ten days off from work. You can resume your normal activities after four to six weeks.
The procedures associated with an upper body lift are extensive, and thus it is essential that you comply with your doctor’s instructions before and after surgery to achieve the maximum results with minimal to no complications. If you grow concerned about any of the experiences you have after your procedure, or if swelling and pain last for more than two weeks, you should contact your doctor immediately.
How Long Will the Results Last?
Results from an upper body lift are long-lasting but can be greatly influenced by changes in the body. If you gain or lose weight following your upper body lift, you may see some of your results diminish; however, maintaining a healthy body weight can help results last for years or decades, barring any other issues that may affect body size. It’s important to remember that skin sags naturally as a result of aging, so certain areas of your body may not remain as taut as they were immediately after surgery.
Maintain a relationship with your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For safety, as well as the most beautiful and healthy outcome, it’s important to return to your plastic surgeon’s office for follow-up evaluation at prescribed times and whenever you notice any changes in your thighs. Do not hesitate to contact your surgeon when you have any questions or concerns.
The cost of an upper body lift varies from doctor to doctor, from one geographic area to another, and with the technique that is performed. Because upper-body-lift surgery is usually elective, insurance usually does not cover these costs; however, if your upper body lift is one of several plastic surgeries following bariatric surgery and dramatic weight loss, there is a small chance that it may be covered. Many surgeons offer patient financing plans to make the procedure more affordable.
Choose your surgeon based on quality, training and experience—not cost.
Limitations and Risks
Fortunately, significant complications from upper-body-lift surgery are infrequent.
All surgical procedures have some degree of risk. Some of the potential complications of all surgeries are:
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Hematoma or seroma (an accumulation of blood or fluid under the skin that may require removal)
- Infection and bleeding
- Changes in sensation
- Allergic reactions
- Damage to underlying structures
- Unsatisfactory results that may necessitate additional procedures
Other risks specific to upper body lifts are outlined below:
- Visible scars at the incision sites.
- Swelling or redness around the affected areas of the body.
- Asymmetry of the breasts or loss of sensitivity around the nipples following a breast lift.
You can help minimize certain risks by following the advice and instructions of your board-certified plastic surgeon, both before and after your upper-body-lift surgery.