Recovering From Arm Lift Surgery: Timeline + Tips

Written by Timothy McGee, MD, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon on August 20, 2018 9 Comments

arm lift surgery recovery

Arm lift surgery, or brachioplasty, is a plastic surgery procedure where excess skin and fat in the upper arm is removed, usually between the elbow and underarm with a combination of surgical excision and liposuction. The procedure can provide dramatic results, changing the appearance saggy arms to a more toned, smooth, and lean look.

While the results are significant, arm lift surgery is an outpatient procedure and many patients experience a relatively short and simple recovery. However, it is important to understand that the recovery process can vary greatly from patient to patient depending on a number of circumstances such as the patient’s tolerance for pain, past health history, and the surgical technique performed.

Recovery Timeline

1 to 3 Days Following Surgery: Patients will experience light to moderate pain following their procedure. The pain is usually well controlled with prescribed medication and/or anti-inflammatories such as Advil or Aleve. Post procedure the arms will be bandaged and wrapped. This will result in some decrease in range of motion of the arms. Swelling of the hands can be expected even while drains are in place. The patient will be instructed not to wear rings or any other jewelry until swelling has resolved, along with elevation of the arms (hands over heart) while sleeping.

Due to limited mobility in the early stage of recovery the patient should wear a loose button up shirt until cleared by his or her surgeon.

1 Week Following Surgery: Pain typically subsides to the point where most patients no longer require pain medication. Swelling and bruising of the arms will be decreasing but will still be apparent and may continue for 2-3 weeks following the procedure.

10 Days Following Surgery: Stitches, bandages, and drainage tubes are removed. Arm mobility increases, however patients are still advised to avoid stretching or lifting anything heavy.  Most patients are able to return to work and normal daily activities including showering. Your surgeon may advise you to wear a compression garment which will help the healing process.

2 Weeks Following Surgery: Patients typically begin a scar therapy plan that consists of either a silicone based tape product or a scar cream.

4 to 6 Weeks Following Surgery: Bruising and swelling should be completely subsided revealing the final results of the procedure. Most patients will no longer need to wear compression garments. Patients may gradually resume their exercise regimen.  At 6 weeks most patients are cleared by their surgeon to resume heavy lifting and other type of intense arm activity like tennis and golf. Most patient continue their scar management plan for the next 4-6 months

6 Months Following Surgery: Scarring at incision sites become better blended with surrounding skin leaving it less noticeable. The scars will continue to improve for up to 2 years after the arm lift.

Pain Management

Most patients experience moderate levels of pain post-procedure, usually greatest in the 2-3 days following the procedure and subsiding thereafter. Your surgeon can prescribe pain medication to relieve any discomfort experienced by the patient.


Unfortunately arm lift surgery does result in scars which will be located at the base of arm running between the elbow and arm pit. Scarring often lightens overtime to become less visible. Additionally, there are several non-surgical cosmetic treatments that can be performed to minimize the appearance of any resulting scarring.

Arm Lift Recovery Tips

  • Always follow all post-procedure care instructions provided by your surgeon
  • Immediately contact your surgeon if you have any questions or concerns about your recovery
  • Make sure to designate a caregiver for help around the house (especially over the first 7-10 days as your arms will be immobile)
  • Attend all scheduled follow up appointments with your provider
  • Take prescribed pain medication as directed
  • Plan on 1-2 weeks off work
  • Refrain from any activity until cleared by your surgeon
  • Sleep with your arms elevated on pillows to decrease swelling and discomfort
  • Plan on wearing loose fitting tops that open in the front rather than having to be pulled over your head
  • Avoid touching the incision site or removing bandages to exam your wound
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Eat lighter and healthier foods and drink lots of water

Timothy McGee, MD

Dr. McGee has been practicing plastic surgery for more than 18 years in all areas of the field, including cosmetic surgery and reconstructive breast and facial surgery. Dr. McGee is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Surgery. He has numerous hospital affiliations in the Round Rock and greater Austin areas and is a member of the American Society of plastic Surgeons, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, American College of Surgeons and Austin Smiles.

9 Responses to “Recovering From Arm Lift Surgery: Timeline + Tips”

  1. Avatar Stuart says:

    Considering the procedure and this post really helped. Good to hear that in 6 weeks time I can be more or less recovered!

  2. Avatar Samantha says:

    thanks for this article post about arm lift surgery. It really helped me a lot knowing the do’s and donts before doing the procedure.

  3. Avatar Angela says:

    I am at 6 weeks today from my arm lift. My elbows are still extremely swollen. The incision under my arms is still open.
    My comment is not directed to any one surgeon because I think I had the best but clients need to know, they will not be able to feed themselves for 2 weeks. Forget about brushing your teeth/hair or bathing your self for weeks.
    IF I had know the side-effects 6 weeks later, I would not have done.

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Angela,

      We are sorry to hear about your experience but we greatly appreciate you sharing it with our readers. Arm lift procedures are transformative, but recovery as you state it can take some time before mobility is restored. We hope you feel better soon and are happy with your results.

      WD Staff

    • Avatar Kath says:

      Sorry to hear you’re having swelling still.
      I’m 62 and had brachioplasty 7 weeks ago and was feeding myself and doing all self care from day 1.

      I had a thigh lift and liposuction on the same day.

      I couldn’t submerge in water (bathtub) until my incisions healed but I was showering without help within 2 days.

      • Avatar I’m 6 days post op. Feeling pretty good. I was able to feed myself and take a shower right away. I can’t lift my arms high enough to brush my hair. I get stitches out in two days. I didn’t need heavy meds after day of surgery. says:

        I’m 6 days post op. Feeling pretty good. I was able to feed myself and take a shower right away. I can’t lift my arms high enough to brush my hair per doctor’s instructions. I get stitches out in two days. I didn’t need heavy meds after the day of surgery. So far, so good.

    • Avatar Egypt says:

      Sorry to hear that but I just had my arm lift Wednesday and I can do everything normally. Just ready for the swelling and bruising to go away.

  4. Avatar Lizz says:

    Just had surgery 7 days ago and have no help it is very difficult without help was never told what I need to do after surgery

  5. Avatar Sandy says:

    I had my surgery 2 weeks ago and I have always been able to do everything myself.. I am frustrated that I cannot have my bandages or drains removed until the 3rd week but besides that everything is going well.

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