The degree of arm lift pain after surgery greatly varies from patient to patient due to individual pain threshold, physical fitness, and extent of surgery (short vs. long incision technique).
Dr. Tarick Smiley, a prominent Orange County plastic surgery expert, says it is expected to experience temporary pain, numbness, tingling sensation, skin sensitivity, and tightness following an arm lift surgery, or medically referred to as brachioplasty.
During an arm lift, Dr. Smiley says the excess skin is removed with incisions made within the armpit fold; however, patients who require extensive correction will need their scar extended into their elbow to achieve the most natural, smoothest results possible.
(Note: Aside from skin excision, the operation also involves reshaping and tightening the fascia, which connects the skin to the muscle. This additional step also contributes to the amount of arm lift pain after surgery.)
The perpendicular scar from “full” or standard arm lift is generally positioned on the inner aspect of the arm so it remains hidden most of the time.
In the first few days, most patients will need narcotics painkillers to help them cope with the discomfort. However, these can be minimized with the use of Exparel injection, which can numb the surgical site for up to four days.
Dr. Smiley, who regularly posts educational videos on Snapchat, often uses Exparel in body contouring surgeries. This medication is injected directly into the muscle before closing the incisions with sutures and has eliminated the need for pain pump, a balloon-like device that slowly releases numbing drugs for several days.
Most patients are “back on their feet” about a week postop and may choose to return to work provided it is only a desk job. Meanwhile, it remains prudent to avoid heavy lifting, rigorous exercise, and stretching the arms for at least six weeks.
Dr. Smiley says that most bruising and swelling will resolve 2-3 weeks. At this period, the use of compression garments might help with their resolution and to some extent even control the pain.
While bruising and swelling tend to resolve easily with time, this may not always be the case with the “lingering” pain or discomfort, which could emanate from sensory nerves starting to “wake up”.
It is important to note that during surgery, some small nerves are injured and can take months to recover fully. While the pinprick sensation or shooting pain is rather inconvenient, this is actually a good sign that the nerves are gradually repairing themselves.
Should the discomfort remain persistent, some patients may take Tylenol and anti-inflammatory drugs, or massage the affected area, provided their surgeons give them permission.