What is body lift surgery?

Body lift surgery is sometimes called lipectomy or fat removal. It’s a surgical treatment for large amounts of loose, hanging skin and fatty areas that persist after significant weight loss. A body lift combines procedures that remove extra folds of sagging skin across multiple areas of the body. During a body lift, surgeons also remove pockets of fat and reshape curves.

Plastic surgeons at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus specialize in body lift and related procedures. Whether you’ve lost weight due to diet and exercise alone or through bariatric (weight loss) surgery and lifestyle changes, body lift surgery could be the next step to feeling more comfortable.

A body lift combines multiple body contouring procedures to treat large areas of skin and fat. Most body lifts include an abdominal lift. An advanced abdominal lift, or panniculectomy, is a more complex procedure for those who’ve lost over 100 pounds. It treats areas of apron-like skin that may hang down from the front and sides of the belly after major weight loss.

Other targeted procedures done as part of a body lift at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center depend on the nature and location of problem areas. For example, your body lift may include arm and thigh lifts or other lifts to targeted areas of the body. A body lift usually includes liposuction to remove fatty deposits.

Why is a body lift done?

After losing a significant amount of weight – especially if it’s 100 pounds or more – it’s common to be left with large folds of skin that won’t fully tighten with diet and exercise alone. This can feel uncomfortable, change your body proportions and affect the fit of your clothing. You may feel self-conscious about your appearance, despite being proud of your weight loss achievements. Some people also develop rashes and skin irritation from skin creases under the breast, belly or hips.

A body lift can help when exercise alone can’t trim problematic skin and stubborn fat. Ohio State plastic surgeons perform body lift surgery to improve appearances and comfort. Your plastic surgeon can lift and tighten extra skin and improve body contours. During a body lift, the doctor will also smooth out uneven or lumpy skin.

A body lift is not weight loss surgery. To have body lift surgery, you should meet these and other criteria as discussed by your doctor:

  • Good physical health
  • Completed weight loss goals
  • Committed to steady weight and healthy lifestyle
  • Nonsmoker
  • Realistic expectations about results
  • Additional requirements for panniculectomy include:
  • Weight loss of 100 pounds or more
  • Related symptoms, such as back pain and skin rashes or ulcers
  • Evidence that you’ve kept weight steady for a year or more
  • Enrollment in a diet and exercise plan, such as Ohio State’s weight management program
  • Dedication to long-term diet, nutrition and exercise

How to prepare for body lift surgery

Since doctors treat extensive areas of the body as part of a body lift, your Ohio State surgeon will discuss which procedures may be done during the same surgery or as separate operations. For example, a lower body lift typically includes the belly, hips, thighs and buttocks. An upper body lift may include the arms, back, chin and other problem areas, and a breast lift. It’s not unusual to require two or more operations to achieve the desired results.

Pre-surgery consultations will include details about what to expect, including the location and type of incisions and scars. Ohio State plastic surgeons place incisions as discreetly as possible to minimize visible scars.

Your doctor and care team will tell you how to prepare, including what to do or avoid at home and what to expect the day of surgery. Preparation may include these steps as directed by your Ohio State plastic surgeon:

  • Lab tests
  • Physical exam, including health evaluation and medical history
  • Assessment of skin condition in areas treated
  • Evaluation and guidance regarding medications
  • Avoidance of food and drink before surgery
  • Instructions to stop smoking

You’ll have a chance to ask questions before your procedure. It’s important to report changes in your condition and health to your doctor and care team or any other concerns you may have.

Make advance travel arrangements for the day of and after your surgery. Plan to have a trusted family member or friend ready to give you a ride and someone to stay overnight when you go home. It helps to pack comfortable, loose-fitting clothes to wear home after your surgery.

What to expect if you have a body lift

Doctors perform body lift surgery in one of Ohio State’s hospitals or outpatient clinic locations in Columbus or nearby Ohio State surgery centers. Body lift surgery can take four hours or more to complete, depending on your condition and procedure. Steps vary but typically are as follows:

Before surgery, you may receive medications to keep you comfortable and prevent infection.

The anesthesiologist administers anesthesia, so you won’t feel anything during the procedure. The anesthesiologist manages medication and monitors your condition throughout your procedure.

Your plastic surgeon will make incisions in areas to be treated as discussed with you during an earlier office visit.

If you have an abdominal lift, you may have an incision along your lower abdomen. Its type and length depends on how much excess skin the surgeon will remove. In most abdominal lifts, surgeons separate the navel from surrounding tissue and lift abdominal skin. The surgeon tightens underlying muscles, removes extra skin and pulls remaining skin until it’s taut and then reattaches the navel.

Other incisions vary, depending on the area treated. For example, if you have a lower body lift, the incision typically extends from your beltline down to your inner thighs. If you have an arm lift, the surgeon will make an incision that runs from the armpit to the elbow. For other procedures, the doctor can operate through smaller incisions. If you have a buttocks lift, the doctor may make small incisions at the top of the buttocks or in the hips or groin region.

The doctor may perform liposuction, a minimally invasive procedure that suctions fat from targeted areas of the body.

When the surgeon has removed excess skin and fat, and tightened and reshaped skin, incisions are closed and covered with dressings or bandages. The doctor may use surgical sutures, glue or other methods of closure. The doctor may put thin drainage tubes beneath your skin to help drain excess fluids.

After body lift surgery

As you awaken in a recovery room, you’ll have specialized nursing care with close monitoring to ensure that your condition remains stable. You’ll be moved to a hospital room for care and recovery, and your care team and doctor will evaluate your condition until you’re ready to go home. You may have compression garments to wear at the hospital and at home. These fit tightly and help prevent swelling as your body heals.

At a later office, visit, the doctor removes drainage tubes and any stitches you may have. Your care team will discuss wound care and other steps, including home care and follow-up visits. Most people go home the second or third day after body lift surgery. If you plan to have another procedure, your doctor will talk to you about the best timing for follow-up treatments.

Results of body lift surgery

You can expect some redness, inflammation and scarring where incisions were made. Swelling will subside and scars will fade as you heal, although some scars remain. Ohio State’s plastic surgery specialists are skilled in measures that help minimize scarring, including placement of incisions to keep scars as subtle as possible.

As you heal, you’ll start to see the results of your body lift. These include a flatter, firmer stomach and tighter abdominal muscles. The contour of your body will be smoother and more balanced with your body type and weight. You may notice that your clothes fit better.

Body lift recovery

The doctor can prescribe medication or recommend ways to stay as comfortable as possible while you heal. Your abdominal area and other areas treated continue to heal for several weeks during after your surgery. Most people who have a body lift can go back to work and routine activity after a week or two. However, it’s important to avoid strenuous activity that puts pressure on treated areas. Your surgeon can recommend safe, mild exercise options, such as walking to improve circulation, prevent blood clots and promote healing. Guided by your doctor and care team, you can slowly introduce other types of exercise and activities.

Risks of body lift surgery

Your Ohio State plastic surgeon is an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon. Your safety is of utmost importance to us. The doctor will carefully evaluate your condition and review any possible risks based on the procedures you’re considering.

We encourage you to share concerns and ask questions so that you fully understand both the risks and benefits before deciding whether a body lift is right for you. Risks of body lift surgery vary depending on your condition and procedure, including the number and type of areas treated.

All surgeries have risks such as infection, bleeding, poor wound healing and anesthesia reactions.

Generally, potential risks of body lift surgery include:

  • Blood clots
  • Fat necrosis (destruction of deeper fat cells)
  • Fluid buildup
  • Heart and lung complications
  • Numbness
  • Scarring
  • Skin discoloration
  • Uneven results

Why choose Ohio State for a body lift?

At the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, our experienced, board-certified plastic surgeons are part of an integrated team. Our cooperative, multispecialty approach can help you prevent future health problems, protect your results and stay fit and healthy.

Ohio State offers these and other benefits that can help before and after body lift surgery:

Ohio State’s plastic surgeons are board-certified specialists and subspecialists with advanced education, surgical training and skills. They prioritize safe patient care and stay on the leading edge of academic and research innovations to offer trusted, evidence-based treatments.

Doctors collaborate across specialties as needed to offer proactive care, including consultation regarding weight-related health conditions. At Ohio State, your care plan may also include:

  • Nutrition consultants
  • Physiatrists (physical therapy and rehabilitation doctors)
  • Personal trainers
  • Integrative medicine specialists
  • Abdominal plastic surgery subspecialists
  • Weight-management experts
  • Behavioral health specialists

Ohio State’s Center for Abdominal Core Health – For certain abdominal conditions and extensive abdominal lift surgery, such as panniculectomy, your care plan may include treatment by an abdominal plastic surgery subspecialist. Abdominal weakness affects other parts of your body, from the diaphragm to the lower back. In addition to plastic surgery, this team can treat and strengthen your abdominal core. This helps prevent conditions such as back pain, muscle weakness and hernia, for better long-term health.

Comprehensive Weight Management program – Keeping weight off requires a multipronged approach, from dietary and nutrition choices to behavioral health challenges such as stress management or depression, sometimes associated with weight challenges. Ohio State’s weight management experts can help you develop lifelong healthy habits through coordinated strategies and support.

Skin care specialists – Your long-term plan to get the results you want can include other cosmetic procedures and nonsurgical skin rejuvenation. Ohio State’s skin care specialists will recommend quality skin care products for healthy skin and lasting results. 

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