One of the not-so-charming effects of aging is that we often develop loose, hanging flaps of skin, or “bat wings”, on our upper arms between the elbow and shoulder. No matter how much exercising or dieting we do, for some, it just will not go away naturally. This flab makes us dread summertime when everyone is wearing cute sleeveless tops and dresses.
Arm liposuction by Dr. Ayman Shahine
If you are physically fit and tired of pinching that extra inch or two of fat hanging from your upper arms, shapelier sculpted arms can be achieved with liposuction. Liposuction of the arm can be very effective in removing the unwanted fat.
Liposuction was the 4th most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the U.S. in 2010 according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). More than 200,000 procedures were performed and 88% of the patients were women.
Liposuction works particularly well if your skin has good elasticity. If you are older than 45, you may have lost some of this elasticity. If that’s the case, liposuction will remove the fat but may end up leaving some saggy skin behind. Liposuction cannot get rid of excess skin, so you may also need a surgical arm lift if you have too much excess skin.
There are many techniques for liposuction – tumescent liposuction, laser liposuction, liposculpture. They may also have “marketing” names such as SmartLipo, SlimLipo, Vaser Ultrasonic, CoolSculpting, etc. All of them work in a similar manner to remove upper arm fat, and all offer excellent results if performed by a qualified surgeon.
How does arm liposuction it work?
Excess arm fat is often made up of tissue and skin along with fat. This makes some of the newer liposuction techniques particularly beneficial because they focus on dissolving the fat and tightening the skin. The procedure is virtually painless and recovery time is quick.
Liposuction can be done in your surgeon’s office or surgical suite. The surgeon will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area. Then incisions will be made in the armpit, at the elbow, or both. The choice may depend on you. If your arm fat is on the lower part of your upper arm, the best access would be through the elbow incision. On the other hand, if the fat is higher on your arm, the surgeon may decide upon an armpit incision. If the fat is evenly distributed, the best sculpting may be accomplished with both elbow and armpit incisions. These incisions usually heal quickly and will disappear over time; scars are virtually invisible.
Depending on the liposuction technique being performed, the surgeon may administer a tumescent solution through the incisions to help “melt” or dissolve the fat cells. A tiny cannula (metal tube) is inserted, gently moved back and forth to loosen and remove the fat, and then the fat is suctioned and removed.
In other techniques, the fat is first dissolved by with the help of lasers or ultrasound. Laser liposuction involves the use of a laser to rapidly dissolve the fat and tighten the surrounding skin. Ultrasonic technology allows ultrasonic energy waves to be delivered through the end of the cannula into the fat and liquefy or “melt” it. Essentially, when mixed with the injectible solution and heated, the fat turns into oil. The fat is far easier to suction out when it’s in this liquefied form.
After removing the fat, your arms will be wrapped with a compression garment (similar to an Ace bandage) to protect the arms and hold everything in place. The incisions are usually so tiny that they don’t require stitches and should heal quickly.
The whole liposuction procedure typically takes one to two hours, Recovery is fast and many patients are able to return to work after just a day or so. Modern liposuction techniques are minimally invasive so swelling and scarring is minimized.
You may experience soreness and bruising and should refrain from vigorous exercise for about a week. Also, wearing the compression garment will cut down on any swelling and bruising. Be sure to follow your surgeon’s instructions after surgery. You can expect to recover from your surgery within a few days but may be required to wear the compression garment for up to two weeks. Your arms will continue to heal and it may take a few months to see the best results.
In addition to reducing fat, all methods of liposuction can also be considered skin tightening procedures because the effect of removing excess fat generally results in tighter skin. But it may take up to 6 months for the skin to tighten, so be patient.
Am I a good candidate?
Most importantly, you must be in good health. Diabetics are at increased risk of infection and wound healing complications but liposuction can be performed with proper care. Most patients are between the ages of 18 and 60, but patients through their 70s can undergo liposuction with satisfactory results. The ideal patient for arm liposuction is someone who:
- Is in good physical and mental health
- Between the ages of 18-40
- Has good skin elasticity
- Understands this is not a solution for weight loss, but rather sculpting the body
- Has done a lot of research on the procedure and has realistic expectations about the outcomes
- Is a non-smoker
If your desire for liposuction is related to a significant weight loss, you should consider waiting until you are near your ideal weight before you decide upon liposuction. Many patients who choose liposuction are not overweight at all, but you should ideally be no more than 10 to 15 pounds overweight.
Are there any risks?
Liposuction is considered to be a rather safe procedure when done by a properly trained and board certified plastic surgeon. However, there are risks associated with any type of surgical procedure. While they are rare, here are some potential issues that may occur:
- allergic reaction to the anesthetic
- dimpling or lumpiness
- embolism (a blood clot)
- edema (swelling)
- nerve compression
- unintended puncture wounds from the cannula
How much is does it cost?
Depending on the amount of fat to be removed, arm liposuction prices can run between $1,500 and $5,000. If performed in the doctor’s office under local anesthesia, it will be on the lower end of this scale. Laser liposuction can be more expensive.
You may also find differences in the costs of liposuction based on your location. If you live in a remote or rural area where there are few plastic surgeons available, you may find the cost to be higher. Major urban areas have greater competition between surgeons and, consequently, prices may be more flexible. However, urban areas also have higher rent and overhead expenses resulting in higher costs, so be sure to do some comparison shopping.
If you are having liposuction done on other areas of your body at the same time, the costs for the liposuction may be significantly less per area.
Liposuction is not usually covered by health insurance because it is being done to enhance your appearance rather than to remedy a medical condition. You will have to consider how to pay for the surgery and many plastic surgeons offer financing options.
You may not get the best results if your only goal is to find the least expensive prices. In fact, it may turn out to be more expensive because you may have to pay another surgeon to do repair work. Instead, find a skilled plastic surgeon who is properly trained. Educate yourself and learn as much as possible about the procedure and what you can expect. Liposuction performed by the right surgeon can work wonders to end your embarrassment and get you back into tank tops and sleeveless dresses for the summer!