Thigh Lift (Thighplasty) for Excess Skin After Weight Loss

Becoming overweight is a risk factor for many health issues. A large portion of the population hears constant encouragement to lose weight. But what happens to their excess loose skin when they do?

Often, people who lose a great deal of weight need surgery to remove their excess skin. A type of plastic surgery known as a thigh lift or thighplasty removes the excess skin around the legs.

More than 40% of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Obesity means a person has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. And more people than ever are turning to weight loss surgeries and medicine to take off the pounds.

People who lose 50 pounds or more often end up with excess skin in places where their body is smaller. Loose skin and tissue sometimes can cause health problems, such as chafing, rashes, and infections. Other times, excess skin may obscure the weight loss they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

The inner thigh is one area of the body where excess skin may cause discomfort and negatively affect self-image. A thigh lift surgery or thighplasty is one way to remove excess skin on your inner thighs.

What Is a Thigh Lift?

Thigh lift or thighplasty is a surgery to remove excess skin from the inner thigh, the extent of which depends on the amount of loose skin. It could be a crescent of skin and fat removed from the groin crease. It could also extend to the mid-thigh or extend from the groin to the knee. Liposuction can help improve the shape of the fat in the thighs but can’t fix sagging skin. Only surgery can.

To remove the excess skin, the surgeon takes out a wedge-shaped patch of skin from the inner thigh, says Jeffrey Gusenoff, MD. Dr. Gusenoff is a board-certified plastic surgeon and co-director of the Life After Weight Loss Program at the UPMC Department of Plastic Surgery.

“To help visualize it, think of a pair of pants with a seam running up the leg into the groin crease,” he says. “The incision is in the same place as the seam in the pants.”

After removing the extra skin, the surgeon closes the incision with sutures. They pull the skin tightly to give the inner thigh an attractive look.

The scar from the surgery may run the full length of the inner thigh, from the groin to the knee. Scar length could vary depending on the patient. Visible scarring should fade with time.

Why Get a Thigh Lift?

When you lose a large amount of weight, your skin may or may not snap back. Your skin’s elasticity depends on how long you were overweight and other factors. These include age, genetics, and how quickly you gained or lost the weight.

A thigh lift can remove loose, sagging skin and tissue from the inner thighs. A doctor does this surgery to give the inner thigh a firmer appearance by removing excess skin.

A thigh lift doesn’t tighten loose skin on the calves, but there are surgical options to address the calves.

Dr. Gusenoff also cautions that an inner thigh lift won’t improve the look of the outer thighs. It can also pull in loose skin from the buttocks area.

“In fact, if a wider inner thigh gap is what the person is looking for, a thigh lift can make it look worse,” he explains.

“In that case, the surgeon might recommend a buttock lift or lower body lift first, then a thighplasty, in that order. The sequence is important and could affect the outcome. This is why a consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon with expertise in body contouring after weight loss is critical.”

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Who Is a Candidate for a Thigh Lift?

Any healthy adult with excess inner thigh skin after massive weight loss is a candidate for a thigh lift.

Who Isn’t a Candidate for a Thigh Lift?

People who are overweight are not good candidates for thighplasty as a first course of treatment, according to Dr. Gusenoff.

“Patients with higher BMIs have tissue that is too thick, so further weight loss or a round of debulking liposuction is often recommended first. Then the excess skin can be removed afterward, which dramatically improves the outcomes.”

What Are the Risks and Complications of Thighplasty?

A thigh lift is a major surgery to tighten the skin on the inner thighs. Along with the risks of receiving anesthesia, you may have:

  • Infection, bleeding, and blood clots. Although rare, these can happen.
  • Lymphoceles. These are leaks in the lymphatic channels, usually near the knee. A doctor can drain them, but they may come back. Although rare, a doctor may need to cut them out and close the wound with stitches.
  • Slow healing. This occurs mostly in the groin crease. That’s where sweat and bacteria collect, and movement causes friction.
  • Swollen feet and legs. Swelling usually improves with compression wrapping, physical therapy, and time. However, it can rarely lead to lifelong lymphedema.

What Happens in the Thigh Lift Consultation?

Your first visit is an important part of your care. It’s often an assessment and consultation appointment. When planning a visit, look for a board-certified plastic surgeon (American Board of Plastic Surgery) who has worked extensively in post-weight-loss skin removal surgery.

For example, Dr. Gusenoff is board certified. He completed a surgical residency followed by a plastic surgery residency. He also completed a fellowship specifically in body contouring after weight loss.

Your plastic surgeon will do a complete exam of your thighs. The doctor will analyze your overall health and health history, looking for signs that could raise your risks.

You and your plastic surgeon also will talk about:

  • Options like liposuction or medicines to assist in further weight loss.
  • The length and position of the scar on your thigh.
  • The potential risks of thigh lift surgery.
  • The timing of your thigh lift and other surgeries you may want or need.
  • Your concerns about the excess skin on your thighs.
  • Your goals and hopes for surgery.

What Is the Recovery Like After a Thigh Lift?         

Recovery depends on the extent of the operation. Thigh lifts are usually outpatient surgeries. You’ll most likely have your surgery and go home on the same or next day. If you have additional surgeries, you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two.

To relieve swelling after surgery, your surgeon may:

  • Have your feet and legs wrapped.
  • Instruct you to wear compression garments.
  • Limit your physical activity for a few weeks.
  • Place drains near your knees to remove fluid for about a week after surgery.
  • Prescribe physical therapy.
  • Recommend that you elevate your feet and legs.

As you become more active, you may notice swelling in your ankles. Sometimes, after a thigh lift, compression can trap swelling in the groin. Swelling can strain scars and affect healing, particularly scars in the groin crease.

Dr. Gusenoff says that minor wound-healing issues in the groin are the most common complications after surgery.

“After weight loss, nutrition may not be optimized. Patients should ensure that they’re getting proper hydration and nutrition – especially proper protein intake,” he says.

What Can I Expect After My Thigh Lift?

After your thigh lift, you can expect a tightened, more youthful look to the inner thigh. You’ll also have a scar that will fade over time. The scar will reach its final look in about 12 to 18 months. Compression garments usually are used for six weeks with no heavy lifting or strenuous activity during this time.

How Painful Is a Thigh Lift?

You should expect thigh pain for 24 to 48 hours after the surgery. You should be able to shower normally within a few days and go out in public within a week after surgery.

Is Thighplasty Covered by Insurance?

Thighplasty is almost always an elective cosmetic surgery. Health insurance rarely covers a thigh lift.

To see if a thigh lift is right for you or for more details about thighplasty, visit our website. Call 1-877-639-9688 to discuss payment options with UPMC experts.

Centers for Disease Control. Adult Obesity Facts. Link.

About Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery is an option for both cosmetic and reconstructive needs, and the UPMC Department of Plastic Surgery can help with both. Whatever improvement you seek, we can create an individualized treatment plan to help you achieve your desired results. Through our research and clinical trials, we have used cutting-edge techniques in our treatments for more than 70 years. We also have one of the largest academic plastic surgery departments in the United States and operate one of the region’s top centers for restorative medicine.

Plastic surgery is an option for both cosmetic and reconstructive needs. The UPMC Department of Plastic Surgery can help with both. We will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to help you achieve your desired results. Through our research and clinical trials, we have used cutting-edge techniques in our treatments for more than 70 years. We also have one of the largest academic plastic surgery departments in the United States and operate one of the region’s top centers for restorative medicine. Our goal is to improve your quality of life. Find a provider near you.