From Michelle Obama’s toned triceps to Dwayne Johnson’s bulging biceps, the desire for sculpted arms is real. Logging hours in the gym with weights and pushups will certainly build muscle, but it might not be enough to provide the strong silhouette you’re after. “Today’s patients are definitely looking for arm slimness with contouring,” says Thomas Su, MD, a cosmetic surgeon and founder of Art Lipo Arm Liposuction & Plastic Surgery Center in Tampa, FL.
Back in the day, cosmetic procedures that treated the arms would remove excess skin and/or fat, but they didn’t provide the kind of refinement that is now available. From high-definition liposuction and implants that sculpt to a modern twist on the classic arm lift, here are three procedures for toned and taught arms.
You may have heard about ‘high-def’ lipo for the abdomen to create a more chiseled torso, but what about a liposuction technique that has a similar effect on the arms? While traditional arm liposuction methods tend to focus exclusively on the underside of the upper arm, Dr. Su has pioneered a more comprehensive approach he calls Celebrity Arms. “[It] is different from traditional arm lipo because it is a 360-degree, or circumferential, treatment — not just the underarm area,” he explains.
The water-assisted liposuction procedure reveals the natural muscle contour and can be performed alone or in tandem with other treatments (think: lipo to slim upper back, bra bulges, or forearms; skin tightening with Renuvion®; or brachioplasty to remove excess skin). “The ideal candidates for this procedure are women 20 to 40 where loose skin is not an issue,” Dr. Su says. “However, we commonly treat women over 40 and usually combine it with an additional skin tightening treatment to address the extra skin issues.”
Performed under local anesthesia, the procedure takes about three hours and involves five to seven small incisions. Compression garments are needed for the first two weeks post-op, at which point most of the pain and discomfort subsides. Minor swelling may persist for one to three months, but patients can resume most daily activities (including going back to work) after a few days. Results are immediate and long lasting, assuming the patient maintains a healthy weight.
Since the procedure removes fat to reveal natural musculature, you might be wondering if you need to tone up before treatment. While it’s not required, it doesn’t hurt. “As far as achieving a defined, toned look, it is not necessary to work out, but it does help,” Dr. Su notes. “As with any procedure, lifestyle always helps to enhance the long-term results.”
2. Bicep & Tricep Implants
For those looking to bulk up a little or a lot, bicep and tricep implants may be an option. Not just for bodybuilders (though fitness-focussed men and women are common patients), the ideal candidate has “the desire for larger biceps and/or triceps or may be relatively weak in that body part due to genetics, trauma, muscle rupture, or injury,” says Ryan Stanton, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Beverly Hills.
Performed alone or together, bicep and tricep implants can create arms of all shapes and sizes. As Dr. Stanton explains, he provides custom-molded looks for his patients that range from “slender, tasteful, and proportional results” to “dramatic, massive augmentations.” Each procedure takes about an hour under general anesthesia and requires a single three- to four-centimeter incision (usually in the armpit) to place the silicone implant.
Unlike silicone breast implants that need to be replaced every 10 years, bicep and tricep implants are considered permanent because “they cannot rupture and leak,” he notes. After surgery, the results are immediate and the initial recovery period is about a week. Dr. Stanton says patients with “desk job-type work” can return after three days or so, but you must refrain from exercising those muscle groups for six weeks.
As with any implant, there is potential for it to flip or rotate — especially when it is not placed within a muscle — but Dr. Stanton’s surgical technique minimizes the concern. “This risk can be greatly limited by creating the perfect surgical pocket around an anatomically shaped implant,” he explains. Other than avoiding arm workouts for 6 weeks, he allows patients to resume all activities post-op.
3. Brachioplasty (a.k.a. Arm Lift)
If you’re looking to wave goodbye to arm flab, brachioplasty (a.k.a. arm lift) is a tried-and-true surgical procedure that removes excess skin and fat for a slimmer, smoother, and firmer appearance. “An arm lift is for anyone with extra skin of the upper arm, with or without excessive fat,” explains Lauren Chmielewski, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in New York City. While individuals who have undergone major weight loss and have excess skin are typical candidates, she says patients with focal areas of fat in the upper arm that are resistant to diet and exercise can also benefit from the procedure.
Brachioplasty is usually performed under general anesthesia and takes one to two hours. Depending on the patient’s needs, liposuction may be done in tandem. When it comes to scarring, Dr. Chmielewski says the degree of the mark is proportional to the amount of skin removed. “The trade-off for removing extra skin is placing a scar on the arm,” she shares. “The scar can be placed posteriorly on the upper arm or on the inner arm under the biceps muscle. Patients with minimal extra skin may be candidates for a shorter scar in the armpit.”
Swelling, soreness, and limitations on lifting heavy objects are common for several weeks post-op. “The arms are wrapped or kept in a compressive garment to help manage swelling,” Dr. Chmielewski says. “And pain medication is utilized as needed.” Clearance to lift the arms and carry things is gradually increased once the incision is healed around two weeks post-op, she adds.
The results are permanent, so long as the patient doesn’t gain a significant amount of weight that deposits fat in the arm and stretches out the skin. The scar will fade over the course of the first year, at which point a variety of scar minimization techniques can be employed to further reduce its appearance.
While brachioplasty is effective at slimming the silhouette of the arm, Dr. Chmielewski notes that it will not affect the appearance of the arm muscles. “To tone the upper arms, I generally recommend working out the biceps, triceps, and shoulders with light weights,” she shares. She suggests multiple reps a few times a week for best results and says the workouts can begin in the lead up to the procedure. “This can be done as ‘prehab’ before the surgery and continued at four to six weeks after surgery — or whenever the incision is healed,” she says.
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